District 158 school expansion in sight

HUNTLEY – The District 158 board soon will start making decisions on expanding Huntley High School to accommodate an influx of students, after administrators recently got their hands on a long-awaited $39.4 million state grant.

The state told Superintendent John Burkey and others in February they finally would receive the 2003 multimillion-dollar grant that was intended to help pay construction costs on the Square Barn Road campus and Marlowe Middle School, completed in 2005.

But after wading through massive paperwork, the district officially got its 9-year-old grant in late August.

Administrators are focused on using some of the $39.4 million to renovate the high school, which is expected to house 3,000 students by 2016.

“That’s the only building that is going to see substantial growth in the future,” Burkey said. “We have a building right now that has 2,400 students, and it’s extremely full. ... We are going to have to deal with some of the crowding in the cafeteria. We are going to have to deal with some of the crowding in the classrooms and hallways.”

The administration also is looking to use the grant money for possible expansions to the high school athletic fields and the school’s library, Burkey said. The remaining money from the grant then would go toward paying the district’s $206.5 million total debt from infrastructure improvements throughout the years.

The move would mean some relief for property taxpayers during the five or six years the district plans on using the grant, Burkey said. But the board ultimately will have the final say on how administrators should use the $39.4 million from the state.

In April, the administration presented the board possible options that set aside $12 million for high school improvements and created various degrees of tax relief for residents. The presentation was intended to kick-start discussions about the grant that likely will conclude next month when the board votes to allocate the money.

In one scenario, the district would take $22 million from the overdue grant, spend it toward the district’s infrastructure debt, and keep property tax spending toward that debt at $10.3 million each of the next six years.

Board President Michael Skala said he thinks the board is unified on using at least $12 million for expanding the high school, since middle and elementary enrollment data project a larger high school population during the next five years.

But he said the board will have to figure out how to scatter the remaining grant money intended to pay down the district’s infrastructure debt.

“It’s ultimately the best decision for the taxpayers and will save them the most amount of money,” Skala said. “We have to figure out what proportion of those dollars are going to be spent first and figure out how we are going to layer it afterward.”

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