Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2007, 10:46 pm

R.I. school board to put $22 million bond issue on ballot

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By Dawn Neuses, dneuses@qconline.com

ROCK ISLAND -- Now it is out of the school board's hands.

The Rock Island-Milan School Board voted unanimously Tuesday to put a $22 million referendum question on the Feb. 5 ballot.

Now, it is up to a citizens committee to sway voters toward supporting the district's renovations proposal.

School board president Steve Clark believes the referendum question has a great chance to pass. He said in the 30 years he has been on the school board, five out of six referendum questions have been approved by voters.

"The big thing going for us is the same thing that was going for us several years ago with that referendum -- we're going to do all of this work without raising the tax rate," he said. "That's why I have confidence it will pass."

The district wants to use the $22 million to build a new elementary school and put additions onto and renovate eight other elementary schools and two intermediate schools.

It has said its property tax rate, now $5.11 per $100 assessed property value, won't increase to repay the bonds. It currently has $19 million in outstanding bonds that were scheduled to be paid off in 2018. With voters' approval, the board plans to refinance those for 10 more years and add the additional $22 million in new bonding to that debt.

Superintendent Rick Loy said Mike Thoms and Jim Bishop have agreed to co-chair the Citizens for Strong Schools Committee, which will take charge of raising funds, disseminating persuasive information and urging residents to vote for the bond sale.

The only part district officials and school board members can play now is to encourage residents to vote, raise awareness and give out general information.

The school board Tuesday did not hire architects for its building additions and renovation projects. That agenda item was tabled until Dec. 11. Associate superintendent Mike Oberhaus said the district and three firms have agreed to financial terms, but the firms needed more time to look over the contracts.

Mr. Clark said the district does need to continue to move forward and spend some money on things such as architects now to stay on its tight time line.

The district wants all of its building additions completed and the new school built and open by August 2009.

Mr. Oberhaus said, once the architects are hired, they will begin working on plans for the additions to Eugene Field, Longfellow and the Academy -- all elementary schools that will be absorbing students from three schools that will close.

Mr. Oberhaus did show the school board a preliminary site plan and interior building plans for the new two-story elementary school planned for the Villa de Chantal site, 2101 16th Ave.

The school, which will be a magnet elementary school with enrollment open to all district students, will replace Horace Mann Elementary and hold about 550 students if it is built.

The district currently is working with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency on what it can or can't do with the Villa property, because it is designated a historical landmark. Two-thirds of the Villa was destroyed by fire in July 2005.

The state agency has authority to review and comment on the district's plan to demolish buildings on the property. No demolition can take place without IHPA approval.