District 21 explores land purchase for new administration building

Posted5/25/2021 1:00 AM

Wheeling Township Elementary District 21 is moving ahead with plans to purchase property to build a new administration center and community services building next door to its existing longtime headquarters.

But there's a few caveats that don't make it a done deal yet.


District officials say their legal counsel is now drawing up a contract that would require several conditions to be met before a final deal is inked between the school board and developer Wingspan Development Group. That would include: making sure the land is free of any environmental problems, that the project would earn the approval of village officials, and it would all be within budget.

Those legal protections would provide assurances "that we don't end up with a piece of property that we're not going to be able to build on," said Michael DeBartolo, the district's assistant superintendent for finance and operations.

For their new home, District 21 officials are eyeing a mixed-use development under construction just east of their Gill Administration Center and London Middle School on Dundee Road. The proposed three-story District 21 building would be part of the 11.5-acre London Crossing site, which would also have 55 townhouses and about 32,600 square feet of commercial space.

The project is being built by Wingspan, whose sister company Nicholas & Associates is the construction manager on District 21 capital projects.

The district has proposed either a 30,000-square-foot facility that would cost $12 million, or a 42,500-square-foot facility for $15.8 million. Either would be three stories.

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The first floor would host social service agencies and medical providers who already service District 21 families and have expressed interest in having exam rooms and offices in the new building. Updated plans DeBartolo outlined at a school board meeting last Thursday would have district administrative offices on the second floor and the board room and meeting rooms on the third floor.

A day earlier, DeBartolo toured the headquarters of Round Lake Area Unit District 116, which hosts a number of student services and is seen as a model for what the new District 21 building could be like.

"It really does bring even more inspiration to the project, seeing what they did in a very small space compared to what we're looking at designing," DeBartolo said. "We think we could capitalize on the square footage that we have to make this something that really is a one-stop shop for community services, health care wrap around services, and meet the needs of the community."

DeBartolo said increasing costs and lead times for construction materials are a concern, but the goal is to do the project in a "financially responsible manner." He's recommended using $2.5 million to $5 million in reserves to purchase the property and pay for some of the construction, and financing the rest over a 10- to 15-year period.

The plan wouldn't result in a property tax increase, DeBartolo has said.

While the school board last week formally authorized negotiations over a sales contract, there's several steps remaining in the approval process. That includes a bond sale this summer and construction bid prices in the fall. Construction could take a year and be done in November 2022.

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