St. Charles residents put referendum failure on gym
ST. CHARLES — At a special meeting Thursday night of the St. Charles School Board to discuss the recent bond referendum, one thing was clear: The public voted down the $18.23 million referendum because of the $8.5 million activity center.
"I think it would be much easier to get the referendum passed if you dropped that part," said Jane Verden, a St. Charles district voter.
The three-station multipurpose activity center that would come with an expanded weight room, extra teaching space and an elevated running and walking track received the greatest amount of negative comments during the meeting in the St. Charles High School cafeteria.
The district's athletics director, Scott McCready, said practices for middle school students often run as late as 10 p.m. on school nights.
"Sometimes, we start practices at 8:30," he said. "In the winter, the dance team is practicing in the hallways."
Roubinek said the three-station gym would alleviate that issue and allow most practices to start no later than 5:30 p.m.
"We could have three activities at once," he said. "It'd be much better for scheduling."
Despite the need, Dave Kramer, who also sits on the St. Charles City Council, said most people he spoke to after the referendum failed on May 3 said the gym expansion was the deciding factor as voters saw it as unnecessary at this time.
"I think part of this discussion is to look at the mind of the voters and see what they'll support," Kramer said. "The activity center is a little more toward the want side."
Bob Van Doran said it wasn't a matter of wants or needs, it was a matter of what voters could afford.
"You have the levy, property values going up, a tax increase going up, and there are seniors on fixed incomes or people who aren't seeing increases in their paychecks," Van Doran said. "It's not the value of what you're trying to do. We can't afford it."
"If kids leave, that affects your taxes," said school board member Michael Schaber.
But school board member Amy Berends said the taxpayers could not afford not to make the upgrades. She argued that parents who want better facilities will take their children to other districts, lowering state funding to the district. And that, she said, did not take into account the value of athletics and other extracurricular activities.
"You can't separate academics from activities," said school board member Travis Gransee. "We're trying to get more kids involved in activities. They do better academically when they are involved."
Roubinek went through each of the major areas of upgrade that had been part of the May 3 referendum, and while Jim Blahnik asked at each bullet point how much each item was estimated to cost, the people in attendance Thursday night did not question the valid need of anything but the gym expansion.
The other areas of improvement included additions to the elementary school totaling between $2 million and $2.5 million, renovating older science rooms at the high school for $1 million, secured entryways at both schools for $150,000, and improvements to the high school's cafeteria, offices, locker rooms and bathrooms totaling about $5.5 million.
What happens next will need to be determined by the school board, perhaps at its next meeting. In addition to Thursday's special meeting, the district has sent a questionnaire to each household, and also has the questionnaire on the district website's home page. Roubinek said all that information will be compiled and looked at by the board.
Another bond referendum could be placed on the November ballot. Or the district could wait until 2017 to take its next step.
"I don't know where I am for how we move forward as a board," Gransee said. "But I hear loud and clear the community is concerned about the price tag."