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Education

Wheaton-Warrenville District 200 board moves forward in designing new early learning center

The Wheaton-Warrenville Community Unit School District 200 Board of Education continues to move forward in building a new early learning center on the site of the current Jefferson Early Childhood Center.
The Wheaton-Warrenville Community Unit School District 200 Board of Education continues to move forward in building a new early learning center on the site of the current Jefferson Early Childhood Center.

WHEATON – The Wheaton-Warrenville Community Unit School District 200 Board of Education continues to move forward in building a new early learning center on the site of the current Jefferson Early Childhood Center.

At their Jan. 17 meeting, board members voted 6-1 to proceed to the design development phase for the early childhood center project. The proposed new 41,544-square-foot building would have 14 classrooms. In comparison, the current Jefferson building is 26,507 square feet with 13 classrooms.

Board member Jim Gambaiani, who voted against proceeding to the design development phase, said the board "hasn't come to any agreement on what we can afford."

Superintendent Jeff Schuler said the district needs to move forward in the design process in order to refine costs and bring them down.

Board member Jim Mathieson said he was willing to proceed to the design development phase "in order to move forward." He said the project could still be halted in the future, such as if bids come in at $20 million.

"I'm not going to proceed, if that's the case," Mathieson said.

Board member Ginna Ericksen also thought the board needed to move forward.

"You can't fine-tune the numbers without fine-tuning the plan," she said. "We kind of have to keep moving forward in order to be able to get solid numbers."

Residents in April 2017 voted down a referendum that would have paid for a new $16.6 million facility at the Jefferson site. Jefferson serves students with special needs as required by state and federal law. About two-thirds of Jefferson students have some type of special need or disability, and one-third of students are typically developing students who pay tuition to attend the school.

Prior to April's vote, voters in 2013 rejected a $17.6 million plan for a new center to replace the current building.

Needs at the center include a secured entry, sufficient classroom and office space, and wheelchair accessibility.

Construction of the new building would begin in August 2018. As proposed, the building would be ready for occupancy by August 2019. The existing school would be demolished during summer 2019.

Debt certificates would help pay for the proposed early learning center. Debt certificates provide a way to borrow for improvements that allows for debt payments to come from the district's existing operational budget, not through a tax increase. The certificates would not require voter approval.

In addition to using existing dollars and debt certificates, board members also are considering a private fundraising campaign to potentially offset a portion of the building's cost. The project is estimated to cost about $17 million.

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