Less than a year after a decisive referendum defeat, the Komarek School District 94 Board of Education has decided to again try to pass a referendum to modernize and update the school.

On Dec. 17, the Komarek school board voted unanimously to place a $20.8 million building bond referendum on the March 17 primary election ballot. 

Last April, voters rejected a $22 million bond referendum, with 59 percent of voters saying no.

Despite the upcoming referendum being only $1.2 million less than what voters rejected seven months ago, supporters say that the new proposal is significantly different than the one voters rejected last spring.

Instead of tearing down the entire building east of 13th Avenue, which was built in 1936, and building a new gym, the new proposal calls for keeping the existing gym while expanding and updating it. 

The new plan also scraps plans to build a library inside the sky bridge that connects the two campus buildings. 

In addition, the new proposal calls for a level repayment of the bonds instead of the previous plan to gradually increase bond repayments over time. 

The previous plan called for the bonds to be refinanced after 10 years and paid back over 30 years, with costs to homeowners increasing over time. This time, the plan calls for bonds to be paid back over 20 years with the costs to taxpayers remaining essentially the same year to year.

“We listened to some of the things the community felt strongly about,” said Melissa Obrock, a leader of the Citizens for District 94 steering committee that helped develop the plan and will be advocating for yes votes for the referendum. 

Obrock said supporters of the referendum learned a lot during the last campaign.

“We know what we’re doing a little more,” Obrock said.

If the referendum is approved, the owner of the home worth $250,000 can expect to pay about $600 more a year, or $50 a month, in property taxes to pay off the bonds. The owner of a home worth $300,000 could expect to pay $732 more a year, or $61 a month, based on current interest rates. 

The owner of a home worth $200,000 is projected to pay about $38 a month more or $456 annually, while the owner of a home worth $150,000 is projected to pay about $27 a month, or $324 annually, in additional property taxes to pay off the bonds. 

Residents can bring in their tax bills to the district office early next year to get a more precise estimate of the impact on their taxes if the referendum is approved.

School officials held five public forums in December to gain input and educate the community about their plans and the need to update the aging school building.

“I think we had a lot of positive comments from all the committee meetings we had,” said Christopher Waas, the president of the Komarek school board.

Waas noted that if the previous design had been used again, it would now cost around $23.5 million.

Because of a new state the law, the new design includes a required storm shelter, complete with bathrooms, east of 13th Avenue near the gym where the multipurpose room is, which adds cost to the plans.

Waas said he is hopeful of a different result in this new vote.

“I think more people are getting more involved,” Waas said. “We’re showing we’re listening to the community. We changed the plan; we changed the payment structure.”

Obrock said more people are aware of the serious structural problems at Komarek.  

“Last time, although we tried to start building up the information early, a lot of people felt like it came out of nowhere,” Obrock said. “And the new plan, although it is not a lot less, it does address a lot of the community concerns from the last time, like reusing the gym.”

More people will be involved in the referendum campaign this time around.

“This year we’ll have 25 people committed to do the job that the four of us were doing last time,” Obrock said. “I think that alone shows, more than anything, that people are really ready to make it happen this time.”

Like the previous proposal, this plan calls for a bump out addition to the southwestern portion of the west building. If the referendum is approved, 13th Avenue would be closed to traffic and turned into a recess and play area to compensate for the loss of play space resulting from the addition. 

Like the previous plan, the new plan calls for building a 51-space parking lot on land east of the gym building.

If the referendum is approved, all core classrooms would be moved to the west side of the campus, which was built in 1955. The 30,000-square-foot west building would be fully renovated and updated, including new mechanical systems, heating and air conditioning and upgrades in technology, furniture and finishes. The preschool would be expanded from one classroom to two.

“We’re not really going to gain a lot of square footage, we’re just using it differently,” said Brian Ganan, the superintendent of District 94.

District officials say if the referendum is not approved, the existing building will require $14 million in upgrades over the next 10 years, and $18 million over the next 20 years, just to comply with safety requirements, making this plan far more cost-effective.

“We can’t afford not to do it,” Waas said. “I feel very optimistic that the community will support the need for the school.”