Officials in Brookfield-LaGrange Park Elementary School District 95 are targeting Nov. 8, 2016 as the date it will put a referendum question on the ballot, asking voters to approve a bond issue to build a new school building.

The referendum will be the result of work that will take place throughout the year, beginning with the hiring of a construction manager in early February.

D95 published a legal notice on Dec. 16 requesting qualifications and cost estimates for pre-referendum and post-referendum services. According to Superintendent Mark Kuzniewski, the district will hold a mandatory meeting with all people interested in the job on Dec. 28.

Responses are due back to the district on Jan. 14. Applicants will be screened by a committee comprising two school board members, two community members, Kuzniewski, Buildings and Grounds Director Rich Batka and the district’s architect.

Interviews of the finalists will take place Jan. 28, with the school board approving a selection at their first meeting in February.

The construction manager will serve a critical role in the months leading up to a referendum bid next fall, said Kuzniewski.

First, the construction manager will be able to give the school board solid cost estimates for the two options facing the district as it seeks to build a new school to accommodate continued growth.

On the drawing board are two widely different plans. One calls for a K-2 building to be constructed at Madlin Park, which is located near S.E. Gross Middle School at Madison and Lincoln avenues in Brookfield.

That plan would require the school district to purchase about half of the park from the village of Brookfield. D95 owns the other half of the park.

The administration, however, favors a second alternative. That plan involves constructing a new gymnasium and classrooms to house fourth and fifth grades on a portion of the parking lot at S.E. Gross School.

Costs for a new building are being estimated in the $21.5 million range, but Kuzniewski said the school board needs solid cost estimates before settling on a bond amount and going to referendum.

“If we’re going to referendum, we need a guaranteed cost,” Kuzniewski said. “We want to make sure we’re not value-engineering the building to fit the amount.”

He also said the manager will be important for answering questions from the community about costs.

“We need the construction manager so that when the naysayers come out to discredit the referendum, we need to have immediate answers to the questions,” he said.

The $21.5 million rough estimate the school district is working from does not include another $5 million in planned renovations at S.E. Gross Middle School. It’s not clear whether the district might seek to roll those costs into a referendum question as well.

“Depending on what those renovations cost, we might use a phased approach with the renovations funded through existing balances,” Kuzniewski said.

It’s also unclear at this point how much the construction manager will cost the district. Those responding to the district’s request for qualifications will have to provide the district with a flat fee for services rendered prior to a referendum and a percentage fee (based on the cost of the entire project) for post-referendum work.

Exactly when construction might begin on the new building, should the referendum succeed, is also unresolved at this point.

That’s because if the referendum succeeds, the bond amount will exceed the school district’s debt ceiling of $16 million. 

The district already has a debt load of about $8 million, issued for the expansion of Brook Park School and renovations to S.E. Gross Middle School in 2007, which it won’t retire until 2027.

According to Kuzniewski, it will take special legislation by the Illinois General Assembly to allow the school district to exceed its debt ceiling. Kuzniewski said he will be working with state Rep. Michael Zalewski (D-Riverside) on that matter.

“With what’s going on in Springfield, it might be a two-year process just to get the legislation passed,” he said.

If indeed the school district moves ahead with its plan to use the November 2016 election for its referendum bid, it will be on the same ballot as a referendum question from the Brookfield Public Library.

The library board has been planning a referendum to fund the construction of a new building for years. It had identified November 2016 as its date to go to voters.

Asked if there’s any trepidation about going to referendum at the same time as the library, Kuzniewski said, “It doesn’t give me any concern.”