By Bob Uphues
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."