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McHenry District 156 referendum seeks $44M for buildings overhaul, freshman campus plan

Funds would renovate campuses, expand McHenry West, more

McHenry High School District 156 is asking for $44 million for improvements, which would eliminate trailers used as overflow classrooms at McHenry High School West Campus.
McHenry High School District 156 is asking for $44 million for improvements, which would eliminate trailers used as overflow classrooms at McHenry High School West Campus.

McHenry High School District 156 has decided to ask voters to support a referendum that would allow the district to issue $44 million in bonds to renovate McHenry West and turn McHenry East into a “freshman only” school.

District officials recently approved the plan to put a referendum on November’s general election ballot to implement the facilities improvement plan. The funding would pay for projects including priority life and safety projects at East and West campuses; the expansion of West Campus and elimination of aging mobile classrooms; and implement a Science, Technology and Industry Center at McHenry West.

The ultimate plan aims to house all freshman students at McHenry East and send grades 10 through 12 to the expanded McHenry West. The proposal could be in place by the 2020-21 school year, district officials said.

A taxpayer with a $200,000 home currently pays about $273 annually toward the district’s current bonds, which the district is set to pay off in levy year 2018. If the referendum is approved, those payments would be replaced and the same taxpayer would pay about $208 annually in property taxes to pay for the new building bonds, according to district documents.

Life and safety reports on the two buildings showed the need for about $41 million in repairs over 10 years, according to the facilities report, accessible on the district’s website.

Superintendent Ryan McTague said the plan would nearly eliminate the need for students to commute from one campus to the other and even out inequities in school facility offerings. The plan also would get rid of the security risks that go along with so many students using mobile classrooms each period, he said.

About 30 classes offered in the district have traveling students, with one in five McHenry District 156 students traveling between high schools. About 25 percent of McHenry East students commute to McHenry West for classes, McTague said.

This can be disruptive, cause scheduling headaches and costs the district in busing, he added.

“We are one school with two buildings. We do everything together,” he said. “We share athletics. We share activities. We share teachers. We share courses. One of the issues is that one of the buildings has almost double the students, right off the bat. Right there – 50 percent more – can cause a massive scheduling nightmare when you are trying to share resources.

“We are not able to replicate the same courses and resources at both schools. This is going to lead to inequity and issues with access in our educational environments.”

Because freshman students are on a strict curriculum, it would be easier to house them at McHenry East and allow upperclassmen access to more advanced courses, such as the new capstone INCubatoredu, which has its own lab at McHenry West.

Enrollment at the two high schools is unequal and the divide is projected to grow, McTague said.

McHenry East has 774 students and McHenry West has 1,452 students. Wonder Lake-based Harrison District 36 and McHenry District 15 both feed into District 156.

McHenry East is projected to fall below 700 students over the next three years and West Campus is expected to rise to almost 1,600 students in the same time period, based on district projections.

Board members unanimously approved the referendum plan with intent to restructure the high schools.

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