District 113’s Referendum Puts School Revamp and Repairs Before Voters

The future of Township High School District 113 will soon rest in voters’ hands.

They’ll weigh-in at the ballot box on a multi-million dollar raft of repairs and upgrades to two area schools.

Come April 5, the district’s voters must determine whether to green light a $133 million overhaul to Deerfield and Highland Park High Schools, which would include infrastructure and technology upgrades, new pools and field houses for each school. The referendum also calls for a modernized library at Deerfield and a new academic wing to replace the 1914-era B and C-buildings at Highland Park.

The district has said that if passed, the referendum will hold taxpayers harmless: An owner of a home with a market value of $300,000 will continue to pay $254 annually in property taxes for the project. That’s because the district is poised to pay off current debt, which they’ll refinance and backfill with the cost of the revamp.

Still, the proposal has proved controversial with some. Two community groups have coalesced on each side of the debate as they race to persuade voters before April 5, with early voting from March 14 to March 31.

Education First, a group of concerned citizens who oppose the referendum, argues that many of the upgrades are “wants” not “needs,” and say the improvements would come at the wrong time given the state of the economy.

“We need to really sharpen our pencils, and instead of going for a deluxe plan, just focus on what is really needed,” says Education First member Sam Shapiro, whose son is a sophomore at Highland Park. Shapiro says the organization is not against some repairs, but instead wants to defeat the referendum so that they get a more modest proposal on the ballot in 2012.

But Citizens Aiming for Responsible Enhancements, a group who supports the revamp, say the repairs are necessary, would be cheaper to tackle now than in future and are critical to maintaining home values in the area.

“Fixing the problem now is quite frankly cheaper than doing it in the future, and it will have to be done,” says C.A.R.E. member Bobby Kellman, whose mother teaches at Deerfield Middle School. “What concerns me, if this doesn’t happen, is that there are a lot of safety concerns.”

For their part, Kellman and other C.A.R.E members say that the plan before voters is a scaled-back version of a more elaborate $169 million plan scuttled after community input.

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