Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95 is a step closer to issuing construction bonds that will help pay for a $35 million in expansion and renovation projects at Brook Park School and S.E. Gross Middle School when the Illinois House on June 28 voted to pass a bill allowing the school district to exceed its debt limit.

Members of the House voted 69 to 40 to concur with the Senate in allowing District 95 and East Prairie School District 73 in Skokie to issue bonds that will place both districts above their statutorily determined debt limits.

The Senate consolidated the Brookfield and Skokie measures in May, adding language requiring both districts to have passed a referendum (both had already done so) and to hold a public hearing on the new debt prior to issuing the bonds.

The legislation will now go to Gov. Bruce Rauner, who can sign the bill, veto it or take no action, which would allow the bill to become law in 60 days.

“We’re very excited the legislation has moved on,” said District 95 Superintendent Mark Kuzniewski, who met with the district’s bond counsel and financial advisor on June 29 to begin planning the bond issue. “It’s been a very long and time-consuming process.”

Voters in District 95 on April 4 passed a referendum on asking for the issuance of $20 million in bonds to build a classroom addition at Brook Park School and a new gymnasium at S.E. Gross Middle School, along with a major renovation of the auditorium wing of the middle school.

In addition to the bond proceeds, District 95 will issue $15 million in bonds whose debt service will be paid out of operating funds.

With existing debt owed by the school district, officials would have been able to issue about $10 million in new debt without exceeding its debt limit. The only way for the district to borrow enough money to cover the cost of the expansion/renovation was to have the Illinois General Assembly pass special legislation allowing them to do so.

State Rep. Michael Zalewski (D-Riverside), whose 23rd State Representative District includes a portion of School District 95, sponsored the local debt limit legislation.

“Without him, we would not have known how to navigate Springfield,” Kuzniewski said. “We certainly owe him a debt of gratitude for his work.”

With a 60-day window for the governor to act on the legislation, the requirement to hold a public hearing and a 30-day wait after that before bonds can be issued, Kuzniewski said that the bonds won’t be sold probably until after Nov. 15.

The district may opt to issue the bonds in two installments, one in tax year 2017 and another in tax year 2018, to phase in the impact to homeowners’ tax bills.