Illini West building referendum soundly rejected on second try

Posted: Apr. 9, 2013 10:01 pm Updated: Apr. 30, 2013 10:15 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

CARTHAGE, Ill. — Illini West School Board President Tracey Anders said the need for a new building remains after Tuesday's election.

"We owe it to the students of Illini West to make that commitment to build them a building," Anders said.

However, the district must first convince voters, who soundly rejected a building referendum for a new high school on its second try. The vote was 676 in favor and 1,384 against in Hancock County, with two votes against in McDonough County and 17 votes in favor and 229 against in Henderson County.

"A lot of people put a lot of time into it and worked very hard. It's pretty disappointing," Superintendent Kim Schilson. "The board will look at the results and determine what the next steps will be."

The $8 million referendum would have covered the local share for a proposed $26 million high school, with the state paying 68 percent of the cost from the school construction fund.

Amy Graham chaired the Friends of Illini West pushing for the first referendum and the group's Carthage effort this time. She said she'll keep working for a new building.

"We have to listen and learn and go on with our next steps," Graham said.

Deciding the next steps begins with the board's April 24 meeting.

Anders believed the biggest questions, in voters' minds, seemed to be the proposed location in Carthage and the cost.

With three communities in the district, "it's got to be somewhere. You can't split it three ways," Anders said. "Everybody wants the school close to them. I respect that."

The Carthage site — 24 to 40 acres just east of the football field and current high school parking lot — stood out because of its available space, its proximity to the city limits, easy access and utility infrastructure.

"There's got to be ground available first, and there doesn't seem to be a lot of that. Not everybody is willing to part ways with 24 to 40 acres of ground," Anders said.

Illini West leases its current home from the Carthage elementary district and leases six temporary buildings to provide additional classroom space. District officials say the building needs major renovations and additions, but Illini West doesn't own the building and Carthage isn't interested in selling.

Voters in November rejected a $9 million referendum which would have cost taxpayers 52 cents per $100 in assessed value. The district this time scaled back the project to a cost of 47 cents per $100. In trimming potential project costs from the November proposal, Schilson said the district looked at items the state funds would not cover such as parking spaces and lighting for athletic fields — not things inside the facility that would affect student education.

Anders still hopes to find support for the referendum.

"If everybody just makes up their mind to do what's best for students, just for education and more opportunities, eventually they'll say, ‘Hey, we need to do this,' " he said. "There's a lot of great people out there who believe in kids. I know there is. It's an emotional thing as far as building a high school."