The Superintendent for Jacksonville School District 117 is working toward a plan to keep school buildings in top shape long after he and the current Vision 117 Plan are retired.
Work will begin on the complete renovation of Washington Elementary School in the upcoming new year. A project that many in District 117 including Superintendent Steve Ptacek thought was still more than a couple of years away.
However, implementation of the new internet sales tax revenue from the state, combined with funding in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic means updates to the neighborhood school are coming sooner and better than expected.
After signing a five-year contract extension this month which will essentially keep him in District 117 through to his retirement, Ptacek is now looking at how District 117 can finish the upgrades to facilities that are still needed, and help make sure the District can keep up those improvements down the road.
Ptacek says things are very different than when he first came to Jacksonville in December of 2012.
“When I was hired, the thing that the board told me is that we needed to have a plan for facilities and the sales tax was most likely the plan. So we launched in that year and a half a community engagement piece that was basically finding out what the community wanted to do with the sales tax money of about twenty-five million dollars.
And that was all the money that was going to be generated from that.
We were very fortunate that the first bond sale went for thirty-two million, there were interest rates, and our sales tax revenue was higher than anticipated. And then there was a ten million dollar bond sale we were able to do two years later, and then this new online sales tax bond that just came into play this year with another twelve and a half million. We are getting up near fifty-five million dollars in construction that was originally a plan of twenty-five million.”
Ptacek says those monies combined with the ESSR funds from the CARES Act are allowing for renovations to essentially make both Washington and Eisenhower new elementary school buildings.
The plans include installing permanent walls to Eisenhower to enclose the open-concept classrooms and the eventual construction of a new cafeteria which currently has to be set up and torn down each day in the gymnasium.
Ptacek says North and Murrayville-Woodson are still in the plans and money for renovations is still sitting in the fund balance, if enrollment numbers in two years support continuing operation of six elementary schools.
Jacksonville High School is also set to receive upgrades in the near future, and Ptacek says the goal is to be ready for a more invasive renovation farther down the road.
“And therefore we would leave at the end of my five years with our elementary schools and our middle school in a very good position. And at the high school, putting for the first time ever, air conditioning into the west-central gyms and the vocational buildings, and doing a renovation to the auditorium. Replacing carpeting, replacing flooring.
The high school is going to be in good shape for another ten years, and then I would refinance the bonds to go and do a more thorough high school renovation. And then I want to write up a for them a plan, where every twelve to fifteen years they could refinance those bonds again and then alternate, going back and upgrading and renovating your elementary, your middle school, and back to the high school. Because there has got to be a plan in perpetuity of how the sales tax can get its maximum bang for the buck.”
Ptacek says going forward, a plan for maintaining and upgrading facilities is needed so in twenty years, District 117 is not right back where it started.
“If you wait too long to call the bonds you’re going to let your buildings sit for too long and they are going to need too much repair and then you’re going to get caught in a financial quagmire. So there really has to be a lot of thinking with a long vision, and I’ve been working on it for a long time, and I think the board is very comfortable with me developing a long-term plan.”
Ptacek’s new contract takes him through December of 2026. School Board President Noll Beard says the District will sign an extension at that time to carry through the end of the school year.
Construction at Washington Elementary is projected to begin at the end of the current school year.