Illini West opts for second try on building bond referendum

Posted: Jan. 9, 2013 10:19 am Updated: Jan. 30, 2013 11:15 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

CARTHAGE, Ill. -- The Illini West School Board will ask voters for a second time to approve funding the district's first building.

Board members Tuesday agreed to put a referendum on the April 9 ballot to issue up to $8 million in school building bonds.

"With any referendum in this tough economic climate, it will be a challenge, but as a taxpayer thinking about this, it comes back to one thing -- what's best for kids," Board President Tracey Anders said. "The fact remains Illini West High School students need a new building."

The bond issue covers the district's share of the cost. The state will pay 68 percent of the projected cost.

Voters in November rejected a referendum to issue up to $9 million in bonds, prompting board members to scale back costs for the building proposed for 40 acres of land just east of the football field and current high school parking lot.

Anders said Superintendent Kim Schilson and the board will work with architect Mike Carter to "whittle down" the building cost by proposing a "laundry list" of options and potential savings.

"Obviously part of that list is less acreage, to take 10 acres off, five acres off, and here's what that will save you," Anders said. "There's been some concern over the amount of acres we committed to."

Board members in July agreed to buy 40 acres owned by Terry Junk, but he's willing to sell less. The contract with Junk gives the district an option to buy within five years, with the price per acre based on market value when the sale is finalized.

Despite reducing the amount of acreage and tweaking a few elements of the basic design, "the biggest thing we want to tell people is we will still ensure the students will have a very nice high school building to meet their needs," Anders said.

Voters will have "an idea of what could be possible for $8 million" with the building, Anders said, but the building design won't be finalized. "When this passes, be it now or whenever, obviously students, staff, committee members will be a part of the design."

Supporters had pushed the first referendum as the best solution for the district which now has classrooms not well-suited for today's students and technology and a building Illini West doesn't own that will need major renovations and additions.

Board members this month also will begin the work to spread the word about the referendum and get out the vote.

"We had a super effort by the committee last time, but I don't think we had enough people involved and that includes the board," Anders said. "We can't tell people how to vote, but we can certainly give them the facts and information they need to make an informed decision.

"With any question on the ballot, you're going to meet resistance. We have to educate people to the need. I don't see the need ever going away, so I don't see the question on the ballot ever going away. We just need to move ahead, let people know we're committed to providing an excellent facility for our students."