After several years of waiting, the Waterloo School District learned last week they will be receiving $20.1 million promised by the state as part of the 2006 referendum to build a new Waterloo High School and conduct other building improvements.
The funds are part of $400 million issued through the governor’s Illinois Jobs Now! capital program to construct new buildings, expand existing ones and replace outdated energy systems in schools across Illinois, while creating thousands of construction jobs.
“This is tremendously important to our community now, and into the future,” Waterloo School Superintendent Jim Helton said. “We are pleased to have been included in this years’ allocation. At this time, we are not completely sure of the timeline for the release of funds.”
In 2003, the school district applied for, then adjusted a grant from the Capital Development Board for school construction. In 2006, voters approved the new high school construction project. This latest notification is the state’s reimbursement of their share, Helton explained.
“The reimbursement, when realized, will ease the strain on the operations and maintenance, as well as health, life, safety budgets,” Helton said. “The educational fund is still in distress.”
In preparation for this state reimbursement, the local school community developed a strategic plan that identifies the best ways to allocate the funds.
Plans are first to pay down a portion of the bonds to lower the local school tax rate.
“This will aid in the stimulation of the our local economy, hopefully through the building of homes and expansion of business,” Helton said.
The district will also utilize funds for needed health, life, safety work within the district versus borrowing more for necessary projects; finish items that were cut from the original WHS construction project due to budget constraints, such as geothermal heating and cooling; utilize a portion of the reimbursement funds to leverage interest monies that could be transferred to district operating funds most in need; and develop a timeline for replacement of the 1937 building that now houses a portion of the junior high students.
“Allocated reimbursement funds can be used to build the necessary classrooms in the future, creating construction jobs and a more healthy learning environment for our students and staff,” Helton said.
The superintendent said he knew funds for school construction had been appropriated for 2013.
“In February 2012, when the last allocation of Illinois Jobs Now! was awarded, our district was passed over due to the difference in allocating funds for reimbursement vs. new construction,” he said.
In an article on the school board that ran on the front page of the Aug. 21 issue regarding finances, a quote from Helton regarding busing should have read: “We haven’t had to add an additional bus, which was our fear.”
The Republic-Times apologizes for the error.