As election nears, Komarek boosters work to sway voters

$22 million bond issue would remake North Riverside campus

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By Bob Uphues

Editor

With just two weeks until local voters go to the polls on April 2, a committee of parents advocating for the passage of a $22 million bond issue to overhaul Komarek School in North Riverside has been working overtime to convince neighbors the investment is worth the cost.

Dozens of volunteers have been going door to door to reach as many voters as possible – a group of about 10 Komarek School teachers joined them last week to personally make the referendum pitch to people whose children they teach or may have taught in the past.

"We're trying to keep the positive momentum going and trying to get people to publicly support the effort," said Melissa Obrock, co-chair of Citizens for District 94, the steering committee formed to advocate for the referendum.

In addition to the door-to-door campaigning, Citizens for District 94 has been persistent on social media, particularly through their own Facebook page and other North Riverside-centric pages.

The committee has distributed 200 yard signs and has ordered another 100, said Obrock, who added that the group won't be doing any direct mail campaigning.

The committee has also facilitated guided building tours and financial information sessions for voters with the school district's financial advisor.

"It feels like the community is excited about this," Obrock said.

While there does not appear to be any organized opposition to the referendum effort, there has been pushback on social media, with some community members vowing to vote against the bond issue because of the property tax impact over the next two-plus decades.

Referendums in North Riverside have faced mixed results in recent years, so it's difficult to gauge just how widespread the excitement is regarding the Komarek bond issue question.

In 2016, the North Riverside Public Library District's bid to increase its limiting rate failed by a 56 to 44 percent margin. That referendum would have added less than $100 to a North Riverside homeowner's tax bill, but the increase would have been permanent.

Local voters also turned down a 2011 referendum question posed by Riverside-Brookfield High School that would have resulted in a permanent increase to the school district's tax rate.

Passing the referendum will result in local property tax bills going up steadily in the seven years following the initial 20-year bond issue. Some annual relief may result after that, when school district officials plan to refinance the debt, and extend it another 10 years.

According to a referendum calculator on the Komarek School District 94 website, the owner of a home valued at $250,000, with no other exemptions, will see their property tax bills go up $348 in the first year following the referendum.

That amount would increase over time to $704 in the seventh year following the referendum. While that might be a hard pill to swallow, said Obrock, the funds are needed to deal with obsolete spaces and long-deferred maintenance.

"The cost sounds scary, but when you look at the plan to increase the cost year by year and then refinance it, it's not so bad," Obrock said. "This problem didn't happen overnight. It's a community investment in the future."

The overhaul to be funded by a successful referendum is ambitious. It calls for demolishing the east building and replacing it with a new gymnasium and 51-space, off-street parking lot.

The west building would be expanded, and the sky bridge connecting the two buildings would be replaced by a larger structure that would house a 3,000-square-foot library and additional classrooms.

In all, Komarek School would gain 5,000 square feet in the expansion and its mechanical systems would be brought up to modern standards.

District 94 has included information related to the planned improvements and costs at www.komarekschool.org through a link titled "Important Documents From Conversations About Komarek's Aging Building" on the home page.

Asked what the school district's plan would be if the referendum failed, District 94 Superintendent Brian Ganan said it likely would be another referendum.

"We would regroup and probably look at going for a different type of referendum," Ganan said. "With the amount of work we have out there, there's no way to come up with that amount of money in the time we need to have it. The bottom line is we don't have the money we need to fix what we need to fix."

Contact:
Email: buphues@wjinc.com Twitter: @RBLandmark

Reader Comments

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Elizabeth Ward Santana from North Riverside  

Posted: March 26th, 2019 1:42 PM

There are also a number of seats on the District 94 School Board up for election, but I cannot find information on the candidates anywhere. Can you offer any guidance? Thanks.

Sue Schaefer Simons from North Riverside  

Posted: March 22nd, 2019 12:12 PM

I completely agree with Raul - the future cost of this project is astronomical in regards to our taxes, currently North Riverside has lost 3 large sales tax generating businesses (Carson, Tonys, and Toys R Us) Sears has down sized, what else will we lose in the next 7 years as online becomes the norm. We as a community have not addressed those loses and how they will negatively effect our taxes in the near future, or how we will pay the pension debt of our Town. My biggest issue is that the discussions were done without the input of the general community - I have asked my neighbors only people with children in school had heard of anything before the referendum was published, this makes me question the entire process. Secondly how has the school gotten to this point, and the people responsible should immediately be fired - there is no reason that routine replacement of ceiling tiles, floor tiles and maintenance issues should not be addressed as it happens

Melissa Scott Obrock from N. Riverside  

Posted: March 19th, 2019 10:48 PM

A vibrant school is the center of the community, and supporting the school is a good investment -- resulting in higher property values and a stronger community. Our community is as strong as our school. The Komarek School facility has not been significantly updated for more than 60 years. The infrastructure is aging, and there are multiple life-safety and ADA compliance issues that must be addressed in the near future. Rather than continuing to invest in a failing facility, we are working to rally the community's support for a solution to the current problem. For more than a year, Komarek's administration has been working with teachers, students, parents, and community members to evaluate the health and safety of the current facility. This steering committee worked with two school board members and the district's architect and superintendent to design a number of plans that addressed some or all of the building's needs. These plans ranged from $35million (a complete tear-down and rebuild) to $20million. After more discussion with the greater District community, a final $22 million plan was presented to and approved by the school board. Members of the community have been involved with this effort since the beginning, and the final plan being shared has been made better and better with all the input received. This is truly a plan by the community and for the community. In order to see this plan become a reality, it is vital for this referendum to pass.

Kathy Hook Fischer from North Riverside   

Posted: March 19th, 2019 8:56 PM

This referendum will benefit the whole community. I've lived in North Riverside my entire life, we have some of the most reasonable taxes around and whether or not we have children in the school now or our children attended Komarek in the past it's the right thing to do to vote yes to keep Komarek School the great school it always has been.

Raul Pelayo from North Riverside   

Posted: March 19th, 2019 7:23 PM

Many NR residents are already worried about rising property taxes including myself. Like your article says, in year 7 taxes will be an extra $700 plus. This does not even include the tax increases by Cook County! Some relief MAY happen if they refinance the bonds and extend it another 10 years. WHAT IF no relief happens? Many families just cannot afford this massive referendum as much as they would like to support it, they can't.

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