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D-200 intends to issue up to $10 million in bonds for facility improvements

WHEATON – The Community Unit School District 200 Board of Education voted six to one at its meeting Wednesday in favor of a resolution declaring its intention to issue up to $10 million in bonds to pay for an ever-growing list of facility needs.

During the 2011-12 school year, the board adopted a facilities plan prioritizing capital improvements, allotting more than $40 million to projects in need of attention in one to three years.

The $10 million would go toward addressing dire needs at 18 district schools, said Superintendent Brian Harris, including $6.5 million in general energy and school learning environment improvements.

An estimated $3 million would pay for up-to-code fire alarm systems in several buildings, blacktop at Wheaton North and Johnson Elementary, carpeting and new roofing for Emerson Elementary, Harris said.

"That roof has been compromised and it needs to be replaced ASAP," he said. "We've patched it, we've repaired it, it's hanging in there, but this summer it needs a full replacement."

All suggested projects are slated to occur during summer 2014, Assistant Superintendent of Business Operations Bill Farley said. Farley estimated some of the project costs would be offset by rebates from utility companies because of improved efficiencies.

Board member Jim Gambaiani cast the sole no vote, and said he was disappointed the district hadn't put aside a more significant sum of money for the facility problems.

"I think there is a fundamental issue here and that is, and Bill has stated it, we've been budgeting, clearly under-budgeting, in anticipation of these freight trains coming down the track," he said. "And now it's arrived and we haven't budgeted for them for the last 'x' number of years, or at least not enough, and now we're going to burden the public yet again with a potential $10 million bond issue"

Farley recommended the board increase its annual commitment to facility improvement savings, from $500,000 to $3 to $5 million per year.

The resolution sets a ceiling on potential bond issuing, said Robert Lewis, of district finance consultant PMA. That means the district would still have some funding flexibility.

Both Gambaiani and board member Jim Mathieson encouraged the board to consider paying for a portion of the improvements out of District 200's general revenue fund.

Mathieson said he would like to see the district split costs with residents, or wait until further along in its community engagement process to get more feedback before continuing the nonreferendum bond issue.

Other board members left the idea open for discussion at the Feb. 12 meeting.

However, board Vice President Jim Vroman said that although he was concerned about issuing the bonds with little feedback, immediate action was required.

"Hopefully we'll get some indication from the community what they would be willing to support in the future," Vroman said. "We do know that we need, from the presentation tonight, about $10 million ... to take care of some immediate needs. We can't postpone those. But in the mean time, we are also asking the community for long-term suggestions."

The board is expected to finalize its decision after a 30 day petition period at its Feb. 26 meeting.

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