RB High School referendum vote coming next spring

New science labs, field house high on priority list

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Residents in Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208 will face a vote to raise school taxes next spring, and administrators are getting closer to deciding how to spend the money.

However, there are a few hurdles to clear, not the least of which is a proposed parking agreement between the school and the Cook County Forest Preserve District, which owns the neighboring Brookfield Zoo.

"We haven't been able to sit down with zoo officials about this yet," said Larry Herbst, president of the district's Board of Education. "The bureaucracy there is horrendous."

The cost of the voter referendum is expected to be between $30 million to $50 million, or to break it down for residents, at least $7.50 per month per $100,000 of a home's market value.

Touted as a way to raise money for a large-scale renovation of the existing school building, district officials say they want to add new lockers, provide air conditioning in every classroom, build new science labs and erect a new sports field house.

"There's no real fitness facility in this area, it would be a real benefit for the residents," said Herbst at an administrative meeting Oct. 20 to hammer out school priorities for the referendum.

School board members, administrators and architect consultants with Wight and Co. spent two hours examining reports from every department, which were asked to submit wish lists for repairs and other needs.

The group was able to agree on their top list of priorities: Fixing maintenance problems, adding parking and wireless technology, and building new science labs and the field house.

Other needs, such as more faculty and vocational education spaces, and adding new lockers to gym areas, are lower on the priority list.

A few faculty recommendations didn't make it past the Oct. 20 meeting. For example, RB Superintendent/Principal Jack Baldermann asked to cut the field house running track down to less than six lanes, and said some vocational training space may be unnecessary.

"We want our students to go offsite and get good experience, like teacher and culinary training," Baldermann said. "But other programs, like child care, may not be needed. Do we really want to teach our kids to be child care workers, a minimum-wage job?"

Wight will condense the information from the meeting and create a formal document.

"We will take these priorities and start illustrative building diagrams, and attach ballpark costs. We can present three options to the board, from lowest cost to more expensive," said Kevin Havens from Wight.

Baldermann said there's no question that there will be a referendum in March.

"We are looking at two main thrusts," Baldermann said. "On one hand, we need to attend to infrastructure, we're going to get nickel and dimed to death. Also, do we need a field house for this community? I would argue yes."

The field house proposed at the meeting would likely have four basketball courts and a running track with four lanes. It could be built at the rear of the school, though current parking and science labs may have to be removed.

To make up the parking space, however, the district must reach an agreement with Brookfield Zoo to build a new parking deck over the student parking areas. The zoo owns the student parking land, as well as the baseball fields behind the school.

Because of zoo management turnover and bureaucracy problems, the district won't sit down their neighbors to the north until November, said Herbst.

Also in November, the district will hold a community open house to introduce the referendum plans to residents. The date for the open house has yet to be determined.

The district administration will present a recommendation for the referendum to the board sometime in December, according to a draft timeline created by Wight. The board would then vote in December on placing the question on the March 2006 ballot.

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