Alden-Hebron School District 19 weighing building $20M school against renovating old facility

New school proposal could increase annual property tax bills by up to $945

Alden-Hebron School District 19 is in the process of considering a referendum that, if approved, could add up to $945 to an average homeowner’s property tax bill.

The district over the past year has considered whether to move forward with building a new facility for its middle school and high school students, or fund millions in improvements at its existing campus. Voters would have to approve the matter via referendum.

District 19 most recently had middle and high school enrollment totaling 195, with 112 high-schoolers and 83 middle-schoolers, according to figures provided by the Illinois State Board of Education. Both share a building at 9604 Illinois St. in Hebron.

The building has two “necessary” renovation needs: $40,000 in improvements to become compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and $85,000 to replace a fire escape with a permanent stairway on the south side of the band room, according to a 2015 facilities study the district has used as a reference for the project.

Required life and safety projects include items such as door replacements and the addition of a smoke detector and railings to different areas in the building.

The estimated cost for the recommended repairs and renovations to the building is about $14 million, and students would be displaced for about a year to accommodate the project, according to district documents.

If the district opts to build a new campus, costs could run much higher. The cost of a new school building and associated work would run about $16 million, and the district could expect to spend another $1.3 million for varsity football and track fields and parking. Costs for varsity soccer, baseball and softball space and practice fields could cost up to $1.7 million, according to district documents.

The installation of the water and sewer extension likely would cost an additional $1 million, according to district documents, bringing the total estimate for a new school up to about $20 million.

“The board has directed me to provide them with ballot language for an April referendum. The language that they are looking at is for a new school building,” Superintendent Debbie Ehlenburg said. “We are continuing to review the realistic cost for a new building.”

The district has concerns that “unknown” costs may arise during repairs and renovations, she said.

The Illinois General Assembly would need to approve the plan for the district to exceed its $10.8 million debt capacity limit. A public hearing also would be required.

Costs to the average homeowner will vary greatly depending on which projects the board pursues and which debt service structure is established.

Two common structures include a level debt service or level tax rate, according to a financing study completed by Tammie Beckwith Schallmo of PMA Securities.

“With level debt service, the annual debt service payments are level; it results in lower total debt service but a higher homeowner impact in the first year and provides the district and taxpayers with a stable debt structure,” Ehlenburg said. “With a level tax rate, payments are structured to achieve a level bond and interest tax rate each year.”

With the level tax rate structure, annual payments increase each year, and the total debt service is higher. The initial effects on taxpayers are lower and structured around assumed future growth in equalized assessed valuation, she said.

The board has not decided which option to pursue.

If the district decides to go with the $20.3 million project and a level debt service structure, the cost to a homeowner with a $150,000 home would be about $945 annually. Under the level tax rate structure, costs are projected to be $623. That figure might vary dependent on EAV growth, according to district documents.

If the $14 million improvement plan is chosen, homeowners’ property tax bills could rise by $648 under the level debt service plan. Under the level tax rate plan, bills could go up by $424, according to district documents.

The district received information about possible consolidation or reorganization through Midwest School Consultants Inc. but did not complete a full study on the possibility, Ehlenburg said.

“The board has not directed me to formally talk to the surrounding districts to explore district reorganization,” Ehlenburg said. “Our district treasurer has been working with the county clerk’s office to see the tax impact if we were joined with a surrounding district.”

The board likely will make a decision at its Dec. 18 meeting to meet a January deadline to file for the April referendum.