By Bob Skolnik
When voters go to the polls next April, residents of Komarek Elementary School District 94 will decide whether they are willing to open their wallets and authorize the school district to borrow $22 million to pay for a major upgrade to the campus.
On Tuesday, Dec. 10, the District 94 school board is expected to vote to place a $22 million building bond referendum on the April 2, 2019 ballot. If approved by the voters, the district has plans to completely revamp and bring Komarek up to modern standards.
It won't come cheap for residents of the district, which includes North Riverside west of First Avenue and a portion of Broadview. And, according to the way debt repayment will be structured, the burden on homeowners will increase over time.
If the referendum is approved, the owner of home worth $250,000 would have to pay an additional $351 in property taxes in 2020, according to projections presented at a community forum at the school on Dec. 5 by Andy Arndt, vice president at Robert W. Baird and Co., the district's financial advisor.
From there, the tax burden would rise annually for 10 years, because the district is considering an ascending repayment structure, which pays off more of the bonds each year.
The annual increase will be about $60 a year for the first 10 years before leveling off at $1,043 in 2029 for the second 10 years of the 20-year repayment schedule for the owner of home worth $250,000.
But Arndt and District 94 Superintendent Brian Ganan said the district could, and most likely would, refinance the bonds after 10 years to stretch out the repayment for another 20 years and reduce the annual impact on taxpayers.
The plan that district leaders, working with a community steering committee, have settled on calls for demolishing the east building at Komarek, which was built in 1936, and constructing a two-story (plus basement) addition to the west building.
A new 6,750-square-foot gymnasium would be built east of 13th Avenue, and a new 51-space, off-street parking lot would be built east of the new gym.
District officials also hope to get approval from the village of North Riverside to close off 13th Avenue, which currently separates the west and east buildings at Komarek, and turn that into green space. Green space would also be added between the new gym and new parking lot. Currently, there is no green space outside of Komarek School.
The sky bridge that currently connects the east and west building buildings would be torn down and replaced by a new, larger sky bridge connecting the expanded west building with the new gymnasium.
The sky bridge would also house a new 3,000-square-foot library, which would become a focal point of the school. The plan would also result in five additional classrooms and four additional small learning spaces.
Komarek School would gain 5,000 square feet as a result of the expansion. The plan, if approved by voters, would also entail a major renovation of the west building, which was built in 1955, to bring it up to current standards.
"I think it's just a good opportunity to upgrade the building," said Komarek school board President Christopher Waas after the Dec. 5 forum.
Waas and others say that the current Komarek building is woefully out of date, inefficient, and badly in need of modernization.
"A building update is sorely needed," said Komarek parent Melissa Obrock, a member of the steering committee that has been evaluating building needs at Komarek for a little more than six months.
Obrock said some parents fear that the current building impairs the district's ability to attract and retain high-quality teachers, who often prefer a nicer working environment more conducive to modern teaching.
Komarek School's shortcomings include poor ventilation, almost no air conditioning, and a preschool classroom that is not ADA-accessible and located in the basement of the east building across the hall from the shop classroom.
The facility includes small and dingy rooms such as a cramped, narrow 640-square-foot band room and a dark basement cafeteria with some loose ceiling tiles.
Poor air circulation is a particular problem. Komarek was closed for nearly a week last winter because of a flu outbreak that was worsened because the air flow in the building is so poor, according to Ganan.
"You're supposed to have five air exchanges a day," Ganan said while leading a tour of the building on Dec. 5. "We're lucky to have one."
Major mechanical systems and technology infrastructure are out of date throughout both wings of the school, said the school district's architect, George Demarakis, of Arcon Associates Inc. He estimated it would cost $17.2 million over the next 20 years just to maintain the school in its current condition.
The entire building would be air conditioned if voters approve the referendum.
Residents can get more precise estimates what their individual tax hits would be if the referendum is approved by bringing their tax bills to a finance open house scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 12 from noon until 7 p.m. at the district offices of Komarek School, 8940 24th St. in North Riverside.
Residents can also contact the district office at 708-447-8030 to schedule another time to get an individual estimate of what their tax hit would be.