Nov. ballot includes bond issue for new Illini West high school

The Illini West community has a chance to bring new construction to its school district with a vote on the Nov. 6 ballot. A group of area residents say it's a necessity to accommodate the growing number of students from Carthage, Dallas City and LaHarpe.

"It's difficult to house 405 students in a building that was built in the 1950's, because we have so many more special needs classrooms, technology that is needed and the infrastructure," Illini West Superintendent Kim Schilson said. "It just wasn't built for education today."

It's also hard to maintain an aging building when you don't own it. Right now, the high school leases its classrooms as well as other district buildings from Carl Sandburg College.

Walking into the building, you'll find wires strung across the walls, plywood supporting old wooden beams on the ceiling and not enough space for students.

The cafeteria can only serve 59 students at a time, and with just two lunch periods, that leaves more than 200 kids without a place to eat. So instead, they leave school for lunch.

"It makes for problems sometimes throughout the course of the year, with them coming back. But with a larger facility and cafeteria and larger food service program, we would be able to serve the needs of our kids better, keep everyone on campus," High School Principal Brad Gooding said.

A referendum on the Nov. 6, ballot will ask the Illini West community to allow the district to issue up to $9 million in building bonds to build a new high school just across the street. The rest of the funding would come from the state.

"Allowing teachers to use the most advanced items will help us be more efficient in the product we're turning out, the product being our students," Gooding said.

But some residents in the Dallas City and LaHarpe area aren't on the same page.

"A lot of our kids in LaHarpe and Lomax are driving a long distance. But at this present time, it's the best opportunity for us," Amy Graham said.

Another concern among residents is the tax hike.

"It's 52 cents on the $100 assessed value. And that's as low as you're going to find it for a $27 million project," Schilson said.

The projected impact of a homeowner's taxes would be about $173 for the owner of a $100,000 home.

Throughout this month, Graham and the Friends of the Illini West steering committee will provide public tours of the district's schools in hopes of gaining votes for the referendum.

Evening tours are planned for Oct. 18 and 25.