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Referendum on Lake Forest HS reno could be on April 23 ballot

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It appears a $105.7 million bond sale referendum will be on the April 2023 ballot as residents will decide whether they want to pay for a substantive renovation of Lake Forest High School.

School officials say the building, which opened in 1935, needs extensive repairs in explaining why there is a movement towards the referendum question in next spring’s municipal elections.

“While we continue to seek academic excellence for our students, it is time to take care of our house,” District 115 School Board President Jenny Zinser said at a Nov. 15 forum at the school. “Like a private home, our high school is in need of fundamental improvements.”

Specifically, officials said approximately half the proceeds of a bond sale would go toward infrastructure improvements including repairs and updates to the building’s roofs, HVAC systems, windows, plumbing, lighting, safety and security, and student learning spaces and ADA accessibility.

“Our beautiful exterior belies the aging infrastructure within our school including plumbing, electrical and HVAC systems,” District 115 Superintendent Matthew Montgomery added. “It is simply time for the major mechanical systems to be replaced and other pressing upgrades.”

The approximate other half of the proceeds would be used for instructional space improvements in several parts of the McKinley Road building.

“They don’t meet the needs of today’s educational delivery,” noted Rick Young, an architect retained for the project.

LFHS officials will be asking local residents to approve a borrowing plan that would lead to a $476 annual increase on a home valued at $500,000 for the next 20 years and $976 per year on a home valued at $1 million. These projections are based on current interest rates, which officials cautioned could change given the overall economic climate.

In addition, residents still have three years of payments on a 2006 $54 million bond referendum. Those total approximately $200 on a $500,000 home and $410 on a $1 million home. That referendum allowed the district to make enhancements including new labs and classrooms, a music wing and a new student dining room.

Elizabeth Hennessy, a managing director for Raymond James, the district’s financial adviser, said District 115 would the previous referendum debt would be retired by 2026 and added the 2006 referendum bonds were refunded in 2016 for saving interest cost of greater than $6.3 million leading to an annual savings of a $1 million homeowner of approximately $78.

After answering questions from audience members on specifics of the plan, Montgomery said near the end of the forum, he would recommend the bond sale referendum at the Dec. 6 board meeting for placement on the ballot next April.

If voters turn down the request, Montgomery said there would likely be a second attempt in November 2024.

Zinser noted the District 115 Board of Education approved a Facilities Master Plan Proposal leading to discussions starting in November 2018. However, those talks were shelved at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

LFHS students mostly live in Lake Forest and Lake Bluff. In Lake Forest, the high school represents approximately 25% of the total property tax bill. Up north in Lake Bluff, it is 21%, according to financial personnel from the respective communities.

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