When Rock Island County supporters refused to give up on a 1 percent sales tax for school construction, we suspect the things that kept them going were projects like the United Township High School Student Life Center.
Certainly, the addition under construction in East Moline packs the wow-factor punch Illinois-side schools desperately need and is the kind of development we had in mind when we urged voters to create the tax.
It would take backers four tries to convince RICo to say yes. This week, they were rewarded with the groundbreaking on the latest school project to be financed by the sales tax voters created by saying yes on the Nov. 8, 2016 ballot.
Monday’s groundbreaking for the project was essentially a formality.
UTHS superintendent Jay Morrow told the crowd gathered at the East Moline campus, “As you can see, we’ve begun some preliminary earth work, and the project will continue to progress until completion in late July, 2019.”
What the community will get once it’s completed is a $9.6 million project that would not have been possible without the new tax revenues.
When the addition is complete, passersby on Avenue of the Cities will see a welcoming new facade. But what the community will get is more than just a pretty face.
The center is expected to feature a new secure entrance, a realignment of offices for “one-stop shopping” for parents who visit the school, a commons area for students adjoining the cafeteria and a new library/media center.
“This is a project we had talked about once we passed the school facilities sales tax,” Morrow said when the plan was approved by the school board in December 2017. “The main goal was to improve the safety and security of the building. “
The project also “will impact all students,” Morrow said. For example, he said, “Since the district closed the campus in the mid-’9s, we’ve had overlapping lunches. There’s never been a place for students to meet. It will be a combination cafeteria and meeting area.”
On Monday, he also talked about the addition’s impact on student learning, calling the groundbreaking “a day to celebrate the next chapter in providing premium education to our students.”
He took a few moments to reflect on the most recent chapter by detailing some of the academic achievement strides UTHS has made, including:
— Five straight years of graduation rates exceeding 90 percent, compared to the 70s and lower 80s a decade ago.
— A dual-credit program with Black Hawk College that has served more than 200 students, saving parents just over $495,000 in tuition.
— The largest number of students ever to take Advance Placement exams.
— Being awarded a Bronze Medal by U.S. News and World Reports for being a top public high school in the country, along with the Pleasant Valley School District.
All are worth celebrating, So is this: UT officials say they want more. The hope is, Morrow said Monday, that this project will allow for even greater student achievement.
Safe and modern schools make it easier for students to learn, and they give all our kids the opportunity to succeed.
Besides, why shouldn’t our schools’ outsides match the wonderful things going on inside them?
Modern and attractive schools are what our communities deserve, and they are what young families are eager to see their children attend.
Bravo to all who refused to give up on making it happen, and to those who have remained committed to carrying out those essential missions.