Huntley High expansion costs higher than desired

HUNTLEY – District 158 board members will look to refinance bonds and free more money to cover the Huntley High School expansion after recently being told the project could exceed the original budget by roughly $20 million.

Board members are scheduled to discuss at an April 4 meeting refinancing bond payments and possibly restructuring the district's infrastructure debt to free up additional money from a $39 million state grant that was partly intended to expand the high school to accommodate 3,000 students by 2019.

Board President Don Drzal and other members received surprising news from the project's architects last week that the expansion likely would cost the district between $30 million and $36 million. Officials were hoping the project would cost $12 million total.

The hefty price tag provided members with their first glimpse of reality in achieving the project's wish list. Unveiled in January, that list includes revamped classrooms, widened hallways and overhauled athletic fields.

"It's higher than what we wanted. ... But this was our first exposure to the price tag that addressed every single one of those needs," Drzal said. "Now it's a matter of figuring out what the priorities will be."

The district last year received the overdue $39 million state grant that was originally intended to help cover the $80 million for building the district's Square Barn Road Campus and Marlowe Middle School, completed in 2005.

Officials last fall blocked off $12 million of that grant for the forthcoming Huntley High expansion and roughly $8 million for paying back debt owed for the Marlowe construction.

The remaining millions were intended to help pay down the district's $206 million infrastructure debt by 2017 and keep property-tax levies for that debt flat.

The board now will fine-tune its needs for the high school expansion, which should start this summer with renovations to the Red Raiders' football stadium. Some elements will have to be stripped, Drzal said, although he didn't identify specifics.

Members also will hear from administrators April 4 about refinancing bonds due from the Square Barn Road construction and possibly restructuring infrastructure debt.

The financial maneuvering would free additional money from the state grant to help expand the high school, without diluting the project's priorities or increasing property taxes on residents, Drzal said.

"Now we take the next step to determine what our budget is for the project and what the priorities will be for the project," Drzal said.

The district also has been exploring partnerships with nearby local governments, such as the Huntley Park District, to help defray project costs.

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