Alden-Hebron School District 19 is asking voters to approve a $15.9 million bond referendum on Tuesday to address needs in its aging high and middle school building.
After years of carrying little to no debt, the schools now needs work that can no longer be paid for with existing tax funding, Superintendent Tiffany Elswick said.
“They have taken care of immediate needs, and we received maintenance grants from the state for large-ticket items,” she said.
But the high and middle school building is nearly 100 years old and has not had a significant upgrade or addition since 1958, Elswick said.
The needed work isn’t due to population growth in the district, she noted. Alden-Hebron School District 19 has a total of 430 students in preschool through grade 12, a number that has remained stable for about the past seven years.
The referendum “is strictly about infrastructure, safety and security, accessibility and learning environment needs,” Elswick said.
Tuesday’s vote is the second time since 2019 that District 19 has brought a referendum to voters, board President Mike Norton said. That $20.3 million issue for a new school failed.
This time around, Norton said, “we did a hard study on what needs to be done to update the facility and a lot of fact finding” of what was important to the community.
“It is a building that needs critical repair,” Norton said, comparing it to a 30-year-old car that “is still functioning, but it still needs to be updated and addressed.”
Infrastructure work included in this bond referendum include replacing roofs, adding new energy efficient windows for more natural light, and upgrading the classroom ventilation systems.
“We have 1950s unit ventilators. They are inefficient for air quality,” she said. Replacements parts aren’t available for them either.
Those ventilation units don’t offer cooling, although some classrooms do have window air conditioning units, Elswick said. Those would be replaced with ventilation units that offer both air conditioning and heating.
A secure entryway will create a three-tiered entry “that is contained, she said. “You have to go through the next area before you can get into the actual building.”
An addition to the school would replace one portable building with four classrooms. The two-story addition would also give the school accessibility it has not had before, she said.
A planned elevator in the addition would provide second-floor access to the entire building and accessible bathrooms, meeting the needs of students or visitors in wheelchairs.
“Right now, for accessibility, we have one area on the back of the building … that one person in a wheelchair can get through,” she said.
Students or guests cannot currently get to the cafeteria now if they are using a wheelchair, Elswick said.
The addition would also upgrade science and science lab classrooms. The old science rooms would then be renovated for other classroom space.
Before coming to residents with this proposal, the school board looked at what was needed to bring the school up to modern standards and what the community wanted.
“They asked us to look at the cost of doing nothing and the cost of a new middle and high school and everything in between. That was our task,” Elswick said.
Estimates to build new started at $49 million, she said.
Norton added that after the 2019 failed referendum, the community made it known they wanted to keep the school on its current site and wanted more information from the district on why upgrades were needed.
“They wanted us to be more transparent with community engagement. Tons of facilities planning meetings were part of this as well. It was informative for everybody,” Norton said.
If the referendum does not get voter approval next week, the 2024 primary election would be the earliest the district could ask again.
“If this does not pass, the board will take a break” before moving forward again, she said.