Carthage meeting gives Illini West residents look at proposed new high school

Posted: Mar. 8, 2013 9:39 am Updated: Mar. 29, 2013 10:15 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

CARTHAGE, Ill. -- Matthew Peacock liked what he saw of preliminary plans for a new Illini West High School.

The Carthage sixth grader wouldn't mind going to a school with more parking, more seating in the gym and better amenities for today's students.

Matthew was among about 100 people at a community meeting Thursday night targeting the school district's second try to pass a building bond referendum.

Voters in November rejected a $9 million referendum, the local share for a proposed $27 million high school. This time, the district seeks $8 million toward a slightly scaled-back $26 million project on April 9.

The community meeting gave residents a chance to hear more about the proposed building and ask questions.

Plans call for a secure main entrance, a front door with bulletproof glass and quick ways to limit access to classroom areas from public spaces like the commons, cafeteria/multipurpose area and the gym in the wake of the shootings in Newtown, Conn.

"If somebody breaches this door, they have the ability to lock down everything with no access to any areas where students would be," Carthage Police Chief Gary Waddell said.

The proposed location in Carthage, just east of the football field and current high school parking lot, also is in close proximity to emergency responders.

"Being right in town, it does provide easier access. It does make things a little bit easier in response time," Hancock County Sheriff Scott Bentzinger said.

Project architect Mike Carter with Quincy-based Klingner and Associates reviewed preliminary plans highlighting features like green space for future expansion, a 2,000-seat gym, a cafeteria/gym/practice gym area that works together to offer flexibility for a variety of uses and parking for 300 or 500 cars, depending on whether the School Board opts for a 30- or 40-acre building site.

Carter said the design process and bidding the project could take a year, with construction taking another year.

Whatever the final design, plans call for incorporating energy efficient elements, said Bob Venvertloh, an engineer with Klingner and Associates working on the project. Decisions on items ranging from roof color and lighting to bathroom fixtures and security systems can maximize building efficiency and lower operating costs.

Marilyn Peacock, Matthew's mom, said she's sold on the idea of a new building. She already has two kids at Illini West.

"I'm 100 percent for my children having an education that's going to match up to other kids," she said, and she supports the tax increase to "let my kids have a better education."

Deann Waddell graduated from the school where her kids now attend, but understands the need for a new building. "I know the building has deteriorated," she said.

School officials say classrooms built around needs of the 1950s aren't suited for today's technology needs. Illini West leases the building from the Carthage elementary district and leases six temporary buildings at a cost of $132,000 per year to provide additional classroom space.

Others in the audience asked about advantages of the Carthage site instead of using a more rural site for the new building to serve students from Carthage, Dallas City and LaHarpe.

Infrastructure costs for utilities and Internet service can vary widely based on location. The Carthage site stood out because of its available space, its proximity to the city limits, easy access and utility infrastructure -- a key selling point to avoid spending an additional $450,000 on infrastructure and $30,000 a year to maintain a sanitary treatment facility.