District 113 lays out its case for passage of referendum
BY LAURA PAVIN | Contributor March 5, 2013 1:34PM
Steering Committee Member Matt Wylie speaks during Wednesday evening's District 113 referendum meeting held at Deerfield High School. | Brian O'Mahoney~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 6, 2013 9:09AM
DEERFIELD — Many proponents and some opponents of the controversial bond referendum attended Township High School District 113’s presentation last week discussing the finer details of its long range facility master plan.
About 50 people came to Deerfield High School Feb. 27 to learn more about the $120.4 million facility improvements at Highland Park and Deerfield High Schools that will be part of the referendum on April 9.
A series of presentations were given by members of the district, Steering Committee, Gilbane Building Company and Perkins + Will, which described the plan in detail—from the development process, phase one project selection and funding methods, to the construction staging, maintenance plan and oversight committee.
Andy Butler, Physical Education Department Chair at HPHS, said that though he attended the meeting to answer questions, his interest in the discussion went beyond his occupation.
Butler, as a resident of Highland Park and a father of two daughters who will eventually attend high school at the district, felt that the meeting addressed the ways in which district officials would handle shortcomings he’s seen at the schools on a daily basis.
“The kicker is that it’s not the best economic time, but the needs aren’t going away; so either you’re going to pay for it now, or pay for it later,” Butler said, adding that waiting to fix the problems would cost more in the long run.
Members of CLEAR in 113, a “pro” referendum ballot initiative committee whose name stands for “Community Leaders Educating and Advocating the Referendum in 113, share similar feelings about replacing necessary upgrades with temporary fixes.
For instance, because both district schools have pools that are past the average life expectancy of 50 years, the 35-community-member Physical Education study group decided that replacing them was the best option.
While replacing the pools is a more expensive option than repairing or rebuilding them, replacement would extend their useful life by about 30 years, while rebuilding would only solve the problem for 15 years and repairing for about 3 to 5 years.
Education First in 113 is a ballot initiative committee on the “con” side of the issue that believes the needs of the high school could be addressed for much less than the proposed cost, including the pools.
“The proposed improvements are considered necessary for long range planning but the proposed schedule is three years or less. To me this is not long range but short term. Other needs will occur as the time progresses,” said Education First member Jim Finkler in a statement on the group’s website.
The nearing referendum will ask District 113 taxpayers to authorize $89 million in bonds to finance crucial work on the schools’ infrastructure, pools, accessibility, gym space and security.
Officials plan to finance about $25 million of the cost from its ongoing capital budget at a rate of $5 million per year over five years.
Deerfield resident Jerry Madden, who said he’s been following the discussions for the past two years, was impressed by the information presented; however, he was hoping officials would clarify how the $89 million would be divided up between the two schools.
“I’m impressed with the outcome and I approve of what they’ve presented, though I want to know what part of the $89 million is devoted to Deerfield construction,” Madden said. “What percentage of the Deerfield school tax goes towards the Deerfield construction?”
On the other hand, Highland Park resident Lev Belinkov was still unimpressed by the plan and felt it was too early to expedite the costly process.
“I don’t think this project should start any earlier than 2016 – right now, the economy is too unstable to be spending this kind of money,” Belinkov said.
If the referendum passes and the bonds are repaid over 20 years in equal installments, financial consultant Tammie Beckwith Schallmo estimated that the owner of a $300,000 home would pay about $173 in property taxes for the district’s bond debt on 2013 tax bills paid in 2014. The owner of a $600,000 home would pay around $358.
Should the referendum not pass, the owner of the $300,000 would pay $15, and the owner of the $600,000 would pay $32.
Because the district paid off a significant amount of its debt service this year, supporters of the referendum argue that paying either $173 or $358 would still be less than what District 113 homeowners had been paying, on average, for the past ten years. For instance, the owner of a $300,000 home had paid $198 before the debt service was paid off.
“There will be future generations attending these schools, and we don’t want to get in their way,” said Matt Wylie, an architect on the Steering Committee.