More than 100 people came to the Little Theater at Riverside-Brookfield High School last Thursday and heard District 208 officials unveil its most recent $63.8 million plan for the renovation and expansion plan for RB.
On March 2 voters will decide whether to authorize the district to sell $58.8 million in bonds to fund the project, which seeks to add new classrooms, science labs, athletic facilities and parking among other things.
But reaction to the district’s plan at this latest community forum was mixed. Several community members rose to voice concern over the cost of the plan.
Some felt the school was asking for too much, especially with Brookfield-LaGrange Park Elementary District 95, which feeds into RB, also seeking a tax increase at the same time.
“It seems to me that you had a wish list and everybody got what they wanted,” Frank Drazan, Brookfield resident and longtime anti-tax campaigner, said at the forum. “We just can’t afford this. That’s beyond our capability. Our taxpayers will not stand for this.”
Drazan vowed to resurrect his group, Citizens Against Taxes & for Better Schools, to defeat the referendum, but said he could be persuaded to support a more modest proposal.
“You’ve got Cadillac tastes and a beer budget,” said Drazan.
But District 208 Superintendent/Principal Jack Baldermann rejected that charge.
“I think this community deserves better than the bare minimum,” Baldermann said. “It’s been almost 40 years since we’ve asked the community for a major building upgrade. The focus of this project is not about building an elaborate building, but a functional one.”
The district’s plans include spending $21.5 million on an 86,000-square-foot addition to the northeast and northwest corners of the school. The expansion would include 14 new science classrooms that would include lab space within each science classroom. Currently, RB makes do with five science labs for the entire school.
Plans also call for building a new $5.8-million physical education/athletics center, in previous proposals called a community wellness center. This would include three full size basketball/volleyball courts, an elevated jogging track and space for the exercise equipment the school currently possesses.
The new courts, along with the existing gym and the east gym would give RB six full size courts, which would mean that all levels of both the boys and girls basketball teams could practice right after school, and athletes would not have to practice in the evenings.
At night the courts could be utilized for community recreation.
“That space will be used by thousands in this community for decades to come,” said Baldermann.
Plans call for spending $1.7 million to put in an artificial surface in the school’s stadium, which would allow much more use of the football field.
“[Now] we can’t utilize our field except on game day,” Baldermann said.
With state of the art artificial turf “we can get five times the utilization of our athletic field,” said Baldermann,
The district wants to construct a new $4.5-million, six-lane, 25-yard long swimming pool with a movable bulkhead for a diving tank and water polo area.
Some in the audience thought the district was asking for too much and felt that while they could support paying more taxes for increased educational expenditures, the athletic improvements were not as high a priority.
“I can tell you right now that I can’t go for this,” said Ken Krupske a Brookfield resident who graduated from RB in 1986. “Going to us all-or-nothing, it’s not going to work.”
Some opposed to the referendum say that in the late 1970s RB had enrollments of almost 2,000 students and wondered why the school need additional space when its current enrollment is 1,414.
However Baldermann noted that education is much different now than 30 years ago. RB now has smaller class sizes than it did 30 years ago, according to Baldermann. Special Education hardly existed back in the 1970s. Now extremely small special education classes are mandated by law and computers that didn’t exist 30 years ago take up additional space.
If the bond referendum is passed the owners of homes valued at $300,000 would see an annual increase of about $238.03 in their property taxes, according to district officials.
At last Thursday’s community forum concerning District 208’s impending $58.8 million bond referendum, Superintendent/Principal Jack Baldermann indicated that the district may back before the voters in the not-too-distant future, asking for another tax increase to bolster its education fund, which pays for day-to-day operations of the district.
“There will be in our future an education fund referendum,” said Baldermann. “There will be a time in the future when we come to the voters.”
The school board had considered putting an education fund referendum on the March 21 ballot along with its bond referendum for the building fund, but ultimately decided that it would be asking the voters for too much at the same time.
On Friday Baldermann said he couldn’t predict when the district would be back before the voters asking for another tax increase, but indicated that it would probably be within four to five years and possibly sooner.
The last time the district received a tax increase for its education fund was in 2000.
Enrollment has been increasing recently at RB. Next year’s freshman class is expected to total about 360 students, while this year’s senior class numbers 310.