With more than half of the votes unofficially reported it appeared last night that the $58.9 million bond referendum to expand and modernize Riverside-Brookfield High School was headed to victory.
With 26 of 38 precincts reporting, unofficial returns showed 2,999 yes votes to 2,490 no votes giving the yes votes a solid 55 percent to 45 percent lead in Tuesday’s primary election.
Five precincts in Riverside Township and four in Proviso Township have been slow to report their votes because of counting trouble, Tim Scanlon, an RB assistant principal, said Tuesday night.
Referendum supporters and district officials gathered at the Paw Restaurant in Brookfield were optimistic, but not quite ready to claim victory as of 10:30 p.m.
“It’s looking good,” said Superintendent/Principal Jack Baldermann. “We’re cautiously optimistic. I’m very proud of our community and very grateful to the people who have helped on the campaign.”
About 37 percent of registered voters in the district came out on a cold and blustery election day to vote on a referendum that generated strong passions on both sides.
The referendum was leading by small but steady margins throughout District 208. Unofficial returns showed that the referendum was leading in 21 precincts, losing in only four, and one precinct, the 63rd in Proviso Township, came in as an exact tie, with 75 voters supporting the referendum and 75 others opposing it.
Pro-referendum forces had canvassed the district for the last four weekends to press their case that RB needed significant modernization and expansion.
District 208 school board member Bill McCloskey who headed the effort to pass the referendum said that going door to door and meeting voters was an inspiring and humbling experience.
“Win or lose I can’t get over how well the community handled this,” said McCloskey. “We got excellent support from the top down: the school board, administrators, teachers students and parents. The canvassing was not only successful; it certainly renewed my faith in people.”
If the referendum is approved, owners of a $300,000 home will see their property taxes increase by $238 a year according to district officials. Owners of a $500,000 home will face an increase of $396 in their property taxes.
Opponents to the referendum called the district’s plans excessive. They criticized plans for a new fitness center that would include two basketball/volleyball courts and an elevated four-lane jogging track, a new pool, and a new parking deck that would be shared with Brookfield Zoo.
Plans also call for 14 science labs and the complete modernization of RB’s mechanical and electrical systems, including air conditioning the entire school.
Referendum opponents mobilized only in the last two weeks but mounted a canvassing effort of their own over the last two weekends. Opponents claimed that the district was understating the increase in taxes that residents would face.
“I was pretty excited at how many people got involved,” said Riverside resident Terence Heuel who helped lead the opposition to the referendum. “I made at least six converts last weekend. I wish we had more time to get the message out.”
Referendum proponents put out four mailings to district votes, and canvassers went door to door passing out literature and distributing a DVD that showed the aging facilities at RB.
Many teachers helped out with the canvassing, as well as parents and students.
There were some problems reported at the polls Tuesday with some reports of certain precincts not having non-partisan ballots so that voters could vote on referendums without having to declare their party affiliation.