And the questions are ...

SPRING VALLEY – New questions keep arising about Hall’s proposed building project, and Superintendent Mike Struna is determined to answer all of them.

At Wednesday’s school board meeting, Struna said the questions keep pouring in whether at the open houses held by the Citizens for a New Hall High School is holding, on the group’s Facebook page or emailed to its website.

Voters will be asked on April 9 to approve a $32 million referendum to replace the nearly 100-year-old building with a payback period of 30 years. If the referendum is not approved, the board will need to proceed with $18.2 million in repairs and renovations.

Struna said many people want to know how the two projects would affect their tax bills.
If the referendum is approved, the owner of a $100,000 home would see an annual increase of $280.65. Renovating the building would increase taxes by $202.10.

“That’s the most important questions you need to have an answer to,” Struna told his board members.

Struna said the tax increase comes to about $1.05 on the tax rate. However, the tax rate will drop by 50 cents in 2017 when some existing bonds are paid off.

Another question regarded farmland assessment. Struna said that figure is more difficult to calculate, but in general, property owners will pay an additional $155.12 per 100 acres for the new building, or $110.91 if the building is renovated.

Struna also talked about how the new building will improve educational outcomes for students. He said the district has seen major academic improvements in the last six years, but they will hit a point when they can’t improve any more due to the outdated building.

“This school is still in the early 20th century,” he said.

The new school would provide 21st century science labs, a media center and classrooms to make learning easier.

In addition, the new school would provide 21st century vocational offerings for the students in fields such as culinary arts, welding, electricity, robotics, computer programming and more.

Struna said the student body is divided evenly between students looking at college and those looking at a vocation.

“Our kids need more than auto mechanics,” he said.

Technology will also improve through wireless Internet access throughout the building, and the included $1 million in funds for portable computer labs, interactive teaching boards and handheld devices such as iPads and tablets.

Struna said people are also asking about why the proposed building is three stories high.

“People still think it has to cost more to build up,” he said.

Actually, the multi-story building has less square footage of roofs to maintain, saves much of the front lawn for community sports teams, and is safer in terms of weather emergencies or possible intruders.

The utility costs of the new school are estimated to be 75 cents per square foot as opposed to $1.50 per square foot, if the building is renovated. Struna said maintenance costs would also be about half.

If the referendum is passed, the district will be eligible for state construction grant money, which could cover more than 50 percent of the total cost of the project.

While it would probably be many years before the grant would be approved, Struna said that when the money came in, it would be used to pay off as much of the remaining loan as possible, shortening the 30-year payback period. State funds are also available for the renovation project, but Struna said it would probably not be as high a percentage as for a new building.

Another feature of the new building that seems to be confusing is the plan to tear down the current gym. While many people think saving the gym would save money, Struna said the renovation and heating costs of saving the gym could result in a savings of up to $300,000, or even a loss of up to $700,000.

“When you tear the wall off the auditorium, you don’t know what you’re going to find,” Struna said.

Another open house will be held at the high school at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

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Voters in Hall High School District 502 will be asked whether to approve $32 million in bonds to build a new school.
The question reads as follows: “Shall the Board of Education of Hall Township High School District Number 502, Bureau County, Illinois, build and equip a new high school building, improve the site thereof, demolish all or a portion of the existing school building and issue bonds of said School District to the amount of $32,000,000 for the purpose of paying the costs thereof?”