Sangamon and Morgan County voters who live in the boundaries of the New Berlin School District will have a referendum on the June primary ballot.
It’s the second referendum from the district in two years. The first referendum failed in March 2020, in which voters were asked if they wished the district to pursue $39.5 million bond to help get a new building for the junior/senior high school.
Superintendent Jill Larson says the upcoming referendum has had more community involvement and input this time around: “In June, we had 40 community members – parents and staff – that began meeting during the summer, and we met 7 times. We went through pros and cons of what we needed and what was the best fit for our community. We had about 25 ideas. We narrowed them down to 5. Then, we narrowed them down to 2 through this process. That group of people was called the Pretzel Facilities Task Force. Then, we had 4 community engagement meetings, as well, to engage with the community. We included also an opinion survey that we did in June and July 2021. One of the big items was that the community wanted to keep the Pretzel Dome, and so we have kept that. The rest of the plan would include a renovation and new up to about 70%, but all classrooms would be new. We would keep part of the Jr. High circle and the Dome, but then we would build new.”
Larson says the cost of the total project would be $31.5 million. Voters will decide on $23.5 million in bonds to be issued by the district. Larson says the other $8 million will come from the district’s share of the School Facilities Sales Tax that was approved in Sangamon County in 2018.
Larson says what’s notable about this referendum from the 2020 failed referendum is one thing: “We are only asking the voters to approve $23.5 million, and the last referendum was for $39.5 million and there was also going to be an increase to the taxpayers. So, with this $23.5 million, there is 0 tax rate increase. The tax rate stays the same.”
Larson says that the district partnered with BLDD to complete an analysis of the current building and found that sections of the building were in significant need of updates that would incur great amounts of money. Larson says portions of the building have not seen updates since 1970: “It’s been 52 years since anyone has touched that building. Parts of that building were built in 1919, 1939, 1954, 1958, 1962, and then the last portion was built in 1970. It’s got a lot of issues. We did take a team of teachers to tour other districts. One of them was Pleasant Plains. One of them was Athens, and one was Tri Valley. Just the difference on what teachers could do in their classrooms [was obvious]. The lighting, the heating & air [are problematic]. We still have window units in that building. Thirteen units were just installed when I came to the district in 2020, so some of our classrooms didn’t have any air conditioning.”
Larson says that the cafeteria is also too small. Larson says the new building will help the district continue to execute its long range plans of updating all of its facilities. She says this particular vote is important because it will go towards maintaining a great learning environment as students move from the newer elementary school into their junior high and high school years.
An informational meeting will be held tomorrow night at 6:30PM at Loami Village Hall about benefits, financing, and the upcoming referendum.