In October, the Oak Park and River Forest High District 200 Board of Education will have to make some tough decisions regarding a proposed new 50-meter swimming pool. In April, the board approved a motion to construct the $37.5 million pool and surrounding facility on the site of the high school’s parking garage.

School board president Jeff Weissglass on Sept. 24 said the board in October the board will cement contracts with an architectural firm and a construction manager, in addition to decide how to fund the construction.

The school district can either seek to have voters approve a construction bond referendum or issue bonds without going to referendum.

If the school district chooses the latter option, it must be able to fit the debt service into its operating budget. Non-referendum options include issuing working cash fund bonds or life safety bonds.

Proceeds from life safety bonds can only be used for projects approved by the state and regional superintendent of schools, while working cash bonds can be used on any capital project. Both are subject to a petition period, which could force a back-door referendum. 

Under both the referendum and the non-referendum options, the school could choose to issue $15 million in bonds and fund the remaining $20 million by using cash reserves. That would decrease the school district’s cash reserve from $97.7 million to $64.1 million by the end of June 2016.

The district has two outstanding non-referendum bond issues, with a total outstanding principal of around $5.7 million. The district has about two more years until that remaining principal will be paid off, which would leave the district completely debt-free. 

Once the district’s present bonds are paid off, in roughly two years, the tax burden of the new bond issue will kick in. 

This would translate into about six cents on the tax rate, which for a home with a market value of $400,000 equates to around $64 a year over 20 years — the maximum length of time over which the district can legally extend its debt payments. 

Todd Altenberg, the district’s chief business official, said that the $400,000 price point was based on the median housing value for Oak Park and River Forest. 

Every $5 million above the $15 million base assumption translates into another 2 percent, or $21 in additional property taxes over 20 years, for a home valued at $400,000. So, if the district issued $20 million in non-referendum bonds, the effect would be $85 over 20 years.

If the district decides to go the referendum route, it will have to act fast in order to meet its target construction date of September 2016. In order to place a public question on the next election — March 15, 2016 — the board would need to approve a resolution initiating that question by Dec. 28, 2015. 

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com 

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