By Bob Uphues
What a difference a year makes.
After voters soundly rejected a referendum to fund a major overhaul of the Komarek School campus in North Riverside last April, on March 17 they rallied to the cause, essentially flipping last year's result.
With all five precincts reporting, the $20.8 million bond referendum passed with unofficial vote totals showing 57.7 percent in favor and 42.3 against.
"We needed this investment from the community, and the community came through," said Melissa Obrock, a veteran of both campaigns and the co-chair of the Vote Yes for District 94 campaign committee.
The passage of the referendum means that the west wing of the Komarek campus, built in 1955, will be completely overhauled and expanded, including four new flexible classrooms and expanded preschool.
The east building, constructed in 1935, will be partially demolished. The gymnasium will remain standing and will be modernized.
Tuesday night's vote stood in stark contrast to 2019, when referendum supporters saw their dreams go down in flames 59 to 41 percent.
Later in 2019, school leaders regrouped and formed a new referendum steering committee, which included about 40 people and tried to reel in voters who might have opposed the first referendum and whose support and trust the school district needed to gain.
"The steering committee included everyone from brand-new residents to 40-plus-year residents," said Obrock, the mother of two Komarek students. "We talked to our neighbors and told them how important this was. People heard us this year."
Obrock acknowledged that the referendum did not have universal support, and that social media opposition and a late flier campaign were a worry. But, she said, the Vote Yes committee's efforts to try to connect directly with voters paid off.
"The most important thing we did was, we were truthful and transparent and tried to speak to every person in town," Obrock said.
Residents of North Riverside and Broadview voted to accept a significant financial burden for the next 20 years. The increase to homeowners' property tax bills is expected to be about $600 for a property valued at $250,000 and about $730 for a property valued at $300,000.
But Komarek officials made their case this time that the aging campus had be modernized and expanded to deliver a contemporary education.
"It couldn't be ignored," Obrock said. "It had to be done."