DUNLAP — When the school year ends, school work ends for many students. But a different kind of school work is gearing up this summer in Peoria County.
Some of the largest school projects funded by revenues from the Peoria County Schools Facilities Sales Tax get underway.
In Dunlap, middle-school students donned hard hats and grabbed shovels Thursday, the last day of school, for the ceremonial groundbreaking of the $7.9 million expansion of Dunlap Valley Middle School.
In Peoria, construction workers are headed into Manual and Richwoods high schools to start serious work on long-awaited plans to fully air-condition the two high schools. Total estimated cost is $16 million.
Installing ductwork isn’t nearly as engaging as kids in hard hats. But throughout the campaign to pass the sales tax referendum, officials at Peoria Public Schools and Dunlap School District, the county’s two largest school districts, said sales tax-funded project would have the most direct impact on students.
The expansion at Dunlap Valley adds 27,560 square feet to the building, which opened in 2008. Nine new classrooms and an auxiliary gym are expected to ease overcrowding in the Dunlap district’s middle-school grades.
To explain, Interim Superintendent Randy Merker points to another Dunlap school. “You only have to look at Dunlap Middle School and you can see the need,” he said.
Dunlap Middle School already has four temporary classrooms. Enrollment projections show the school could see 50 more students in the fall.
By the time the Dunlap Valley expansion is completed in August 2019, middle-school boundaries will have been redrawn, Merker continued. Some areas currently within Dunlap Middle School boundaries will be in Dunlap Valley boundaries, relieving crowding at both schools.
Peoria Public Schools completed dozens of smaller projects last year. The heating, air-conditioning, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) project at the high schools kicks off work that is also expected to be completed by August 2019.
Both high schools are about 300,000 square feet. “The heavy-duty, noisy construction work will occur in the summer,” said PPS Chief Financial Officer Mick Willis.
Additional HVAC work at Lindbergh Middle School and other smaller projects are scheduled to be completed by August 2018.
Illinois Valley Central School District (IVC) will replace HVAC units and repair the roof this summer at Chillicothe Elementary School. The district also used revenues from the county schools facilities sales tax to avoid increasing property taxes on current tax bills, according to IVC Superintendent Chad Allison. Without a property tax abatement, the district’s tax rate would have increased.
“The County Sales Tax has been a wonderful thing for out district,” he said.
Voters approved the half-cent schools facilities sales tax in 2016. Peoria County’s 18 school districts began receiving monthly payments in July. PPS issued $50 million in bonds to pay for dozens of project over the next five years, while Dunlap issued $8.3 million in bonds to pay for the expansion. The bonds will be repaid with sales tax revenues.
Sales tax receipts are distributed based on a school district’s percentage of the county’s total student enrollment. For instance, PPS receives 49 percent of the estimated annual $9 million in sales taxes because it enrolls 49 cent of the county’s total enrollment.
In spite of concerns about decreases in county sales tax revenues, Willis, of Peoria Public Schools, said the district has enough of a cushion in its bond payment structure to handle declines. So far, sales tax revenues are about $50,000 under budget, he said.
“But we’re close enough that we’ll still be able to make our debt service payment.”
Merker, of Dunlap, said its sales tax receipts had, on average, been on target.
Dunlap board members approved bids for about $500,000 in site work at the May board meeting. Board members are expected to approve bids for a majority of the expansion work at the June meeting.
Pam Adams can be reached at 686-3245 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @padamspam.