New federal bond could speed up 117 school renovations

By Gary Scott on December 15, 2015 at 12:49pm

2012 file photo of a floor with asbestos tiling at Washington Elementary School in Jacksonville.

Jacksonville School District 117 could soon see almost all of its elementary schools get renovated with sales tax revenue.

That announcement was made by Superintendent Steve Ptacek during Monday night’s City Council meeting.

Ptacek was showing aldermen progress on the Jacksonville Middle School project and ended his presentation by announcing the district, pending school board approval, plans to apply for a federal Qualified School Construction Bond, which became available just last month.

“There’s a $500-million federal program with a $50-million maximum per school district. If we receive this grant, then the bonds that we will sell, the federal government will be paying the interest on those bonds for the life of the bond. Therefore, our payment goes to just principal. That greatly increases the amount of money that we can raise. It’s basically an interest-free loan,” Ptacek explains.

“So, from that, the initial numbers that we’ve gotten from our municipal advisor state that we can raise up to $20 million more in revenue through bond sales if we receive this award.”

The district is spending $24-million on transforming Turner Jr. High School into Jacksonville Middle School, and is using about three-quarters of the leftover $8-million in bond sales for renovating Lincoln Elementary. Voters approved a one-cent sales tax increase in November 2014.

Ptacek says the federal money, combined with the leftover revenue from previous bond sales, means four more elementary schools can be renovated.

Ptacek says the grant will be highly competitive, but that the school district has “shovel-ready” projects for its schools, which gives it an edge. The district has that status because it doesn’t have to go and raise additional funding for the projects.

“We’re currently getting together a more detailed facility plan of how we would use that money with all the renovations for other buildings,” he says.

“We’re using the format that we’re using for the Lincoln renovations for all of the other buildings. You’re talking about flooring, lighting, HVAC system, new bathrooms, et cetera. So, we should be able to show about $30 million worth of improvements that we can readily do based on how much money we get,” Ptacek continues.

The school board is scheduled to vote on a resolution for the bond application tomorrow night. An announcement on the bond winners and losers will be made in February.