Education

Illini West voters face bond issue for new high school

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jan. 8, 2020 12:01 am

CARTHAGE, Ill. -- The Illini West School Board is asking district voters to take a step toward funding a new high school.

Voters will decide March 17 whether the board should issue $17 million in bonds to pay roughly half the cost to build and equip a school on a site the district owns north of Carthage near the intersection of Ill. 94 and County Road 2600N.

Seeking voter approval for the bonds now means the district will be ready to tap into potential school construction funding, expected through a five-year $45 billion state infrastructure plan, to cover the rest of the building cost.

"Our belief is if we get our money, our share of the money, then the state will hopefully come through," School Board Vice President Tracey Anders said.

"We know if we do not have our local money ready we will not be given consideration by the state. Somebody else will have their local money ready," Superintendent Kim Schilson said.

Without state funding, the building project stalls.

Asking taxpayers to cover the entire cost "is too much," Schilson said. "If there's no state money, we won't do anything here with a new building. We would never issue bonds without the state money."

A community committee will promote the referendum, which Schilson said would cost taxpayers about 85 cents per $100 in assessed value.

Illini West formed in the 2007 convergence of Carthage, Dallas City and LaHarpe districts, which created three new elementary districts and the high school district, and since its launch, the district has been housed in leased space in part of the former Carthage high school with six portable buildings providing 12 additional classrooms.

Officials long have said a more user-friendly space is needed to accommodate students and today's technology, but voters rejected building referendums in November 2012 and April 2013.

"There's several things the high school students could use right now, one of them being a multipurpose room and a larger cafeteria," Anders said.

Even with a building addition, "it's still not exactly as a brand-new designed structure," he said. "I think we could build (a school) that would meet needs of students today and for a very long time."

While residents want the best education for students, "when it comes to cost, it's an issue," Anders said.

An initial assessment report, submitted by Davenport, Iowa,-based Russell Construction in August, found the building needs $22,701,000 in work to meet projected current and applicable school building codes.

"Carthage has been very gracious letting us use the building, but some things really need to be addressed. I don't care if it's your house, business or school, you need to be continually updating … but in this case, we don't own the structure," Anders said. "Looking at the cost of total renovation of that building and a new building, there is not a significant difference."

Illini West bought the proposed building site, a tract of the Vass Farm, in May 2017. The site has rural water service, "but we would be building everything else from there," Schilson said.

"At the end of the day, it all costs money. We're trying to do our part, take a proactive approach, initiate this and hopefully the state will come through," Anders said. "Illini West, if you look back, has really done very well. The truck's running pretty good. We just need a place to park it."