The days of mobile classroom units will soon be over in Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95 and a big construction project is on the horizon at Brook Park and S.E. Gross Middle Schools after voters passed a referendum to issue $20 million in construction bonds in the April 4 Consolidated Election.
The bond issue will fall right to the bottom line on the tax bills of homeowners in the district, many of whom are already on the hook for a boost from a successful road improvement bond referendum in Brookfield last year.
But despite the prospect of an additional $250 or more annually for the next couple of decades, “yes” voters carried the day – 1,449 (54.5 percent) to 1,211 (45.5 percent).
“We’re very thankful,” said District 95 Superintendent Mark Kuzniewski. “I think that our process has been solid, and I believe it’s recognition of the [enrollment] growth that we have here.”
Work begins now on refining the designs for the improvements at both schools and huddling with the school district’s bond counsel to determine the timing of the bond issuances.
The $20 million bond issue from the referendum will be combined with another $15 non-referendum bond issue to construct a major addition at Brook Park School, which will add a new gymnasium and 18 new classrooms, including room for an all-day kindergarten program.
Plans are to build a new gym at S.E. Gross Middle School and to extensively remodel the auditorium wing of the building to house a new ground-floor “cafetorium,” and two floors of classrooms for the school’s music program.
The debt service on the non-referendum bonds will paid using funds the district will have on hand for operations and won’t impact property tax bills.
Before any bonds are issued, however, district officials will have to wait for the Illinois General Assembly to pass special legislation allowing District 95 to exceed its debt limit.
State Rep. Michael Zalewski (D-Riverside) introduced House Bill 2505 in February. It passed the House on April 5, the day after the election, in a 62 to 49 vote. The Illinois Senate is set for a first reading of the bill on April 25.
Kuzniewski said he hopes the Senate will pass the bill in May and that the legislation will be signed by the governor by July.
If the debt limit legislation succeeds, Kuzniewski said construction would begin at both schools in April 2018 and be complete in time for the start of the 2019-20 school year.
The referendum had broad support in both Brookfield and LaGrange Park with the exception of the one precinct in Brookfield – the one located mainly north of 31st Street – where it failed. In that precinct, only 44.6 percent of voters favored the bond issue.
In terms of turnout, the lack of contested municipal elections in LaGrange Park appear to have been a factor. In the district’s two LaGrange Park precincts, voter turnout was just 19.4 percent. In Brookfield, where there were competitive races for president, clerk and trustee, voter turnout was 35.1 percent.
Scott Encher, the chairman of the citizen committee charged with advocating for the referendum publicly, said some late campaigning against the referendum the weekend prior to the vote may have had some effect. Fliers appeared on voters’ doorsteps emphasizing the cost but also asking voters to send a message to the “village,” as if the referendum was a municipal effort.
However, the referendum was a solid win for the “yes” camp, which emphasized the school district’s need for additional space, particularly at Brook Park School, where mobile classroom units had to be installed a couple of years ago to accommodate the enrollment growth.
“We put a positive message out there and voters showed up to say, ‘This is what the community needs.’ The district took responsibility to take care of the students and the community,” said Encher.