League of Women Voters forum offers pro, con discussion of Batavia school-construction referendum
Is borrowing up to $140 million for Batavia school construction, renovations and repairs more fiscally responsible than doing the work piecemeal?
That and other questions were discussed Monday night at a forum conducted by the League of Women Voters of Central Kane County.
Brief presentations were given by District 101's chief financial officer, Anton Inglese; Juliana Concelo, co-treasurer of the "Yes for BPS" pro-borrowing group; and Sylvia Keppel, leader of the opposition group Batavians for Responsible Government.
In the April 4 election, the school district will ask voters to approve replacing H.C. Storm and Louise White elementary schools. Inglese said that would cost about $30 million apiece. The rest of the money would be spent at the district's other six schools. The referendum question does not specify on what projects, other than to say it would include security, electrical, plumbing, HVAC, window, roof and site work.
Keppel repeatedly criticized that, calling referendum question vague. She said the district could spend that money however it wanted on facilities, such as building artificial turf fields.
Keppel suggested the district break up its requests in to more-specific asks, such as one just for rebuilding the two schools, or one for security improvements.
"There were something like $350 million of projects identified (in a district master facilities plan). Which projects will be selected? We don't really know," Keppel said. "Give us specifics to vote on."
Inglese said that, for H.C. Storm and Louise White, repairs and renovations would cost more than building new schools. Both schools were built in 1978. Storm, in particular, has metal walls that hang from the ceiling; they were designed to be movable for flexibility in setting rooms. But they aren't moved and have warped, meaning classrooms doors can't be locked, Inglese said.
Inglese said the money would be borrowed in chunks over five years, and that the district plans to time it to replace debt that is being paid off in 2025 and 2026. However, if voters approve the measure, the district could borrow the money immediately.
In response to an audience question, Keppel said that given inflationary pressures on people's expenses, "this is not the time to ask people to give more. This is the time to give people a break."
Inglese said if the district does renovations rather than rebuilds, "we will throw good money after bad ... and the longer we wait, the more expensive it gets."
He said school construction costs have increased in recent years by 35%, and he does not expect those to decrease.
A video of the forum will be posted at illinoisvoterguide.org.
About 70 people attended the forum, including the incoming district superintendent, several current and former school board members, and Batavia Mayor Jeff Schielke.