Billions needed for school construction backlogs
By JERRY NOWICKI
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – A group of K-12 education representatives on Tuesday added to the chorus of calls for a statewide capital infrastructure bill that goes beyond road and bridge projects.
At a Capitol press event, the group detailed infrastructure needs at school districts across the state, appearing in front of poster boards with images of outdated and dilapidated Illinois school facilities. They did not, however, give any suggestions as to how the revenue for capital infrastructure projects could be raised.
“I think our role is to show that the need exists across the state pretty widespread, and then show the most effective and efficient ways that we could use the money to enhance educational opportunities,” said Brent Clark, executive director of the Illinois Association of School Administrators. “I think our big job is to rely on the General Assembly to determine the revenues to fund a capital bill.”
In a budget proposal packet distributed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in January, K-12 deferred maintenance needs were estimated at $9.3 billion. The state has not passed a capital projects bill since 2009.
Superintendents at the news conference detailed 100-year-old buildings, excessive use of mobile classrooms and crumbling facilities that schools don’t have the funding to correct.
Brian Ganan, superintendent of Komarek School District 94 in North Riverside, said his district’s building was constructed in 1936 and has significant infrastructure issues.
“On my way down here (to Springfield), I got a phone call from our architect telling me that building now has more plumbing issues where the pipes have rusted,” Ganan said. “And that's going to be at least a $200,000 project. … So we're continually having to put big dollars that we don't have into an old infrastructure that's failing.”
Jennifer Gill, superintendent of Springfield School District 186, said her district has 27 mobile facilities being used for education purposes. She said that even though voters in her district approved a sales tax which would raise about $10 million annually for capital projects, it wouldn’t be enough to address maintenance backlog issues.
“We have just identified more than $300 million in construction needs that will take 30 years to complete,” Gill said. “We recognize the importance of investments in transportation infrastructure, but the urgency for K-12 vertical construction is great.”
Superintendents from Scott-Morgan CUSD 2 in Bluffs and Murphyspboro CUSD 186 also detailed aging facilities and classrooms that cannot accommodate the students in their districts.
“Our newest building is in the best shape, but it still needs at least six new classrooms simply to allow our regular education class sizes to be reduced to the recommended amounts,” Murphysboro Superintendent Christopher Grode said.
The General Assembly is discussing an infrastructure funding bill which would increase motor fuel taxes and state licensing fees, but the $2.4 billion in estimated revenue generated in that proposal could be used only for roads and bridges due to a “lock box” amendment passed in 2016.
Funding for vertical infrastructure would have to come from other sources. State Rep. Will Davis, a Homewood Democrat, said discussions for revenue are ongoing, although he did not give specifics as to where money would come from.
“What these folks behind me (superintendents and education representatives) also have to do is advocate, not just for the project itself, because I'm sure that our legislators will support the project,” Davis said. “They also have to encourage their legislators to be open-minded when it comes to the revenue side of this as well because it is going to take some tough votes to get us to where we need to go.”