Monticello school referendum passes

After twice defeating calls to construct a new high school, Monticello school district voters have approved a $29.8 million referendum question that will fund renovations at the high school/Washington Elementary campus.

It made for a positive mood at the high school the morning after the March 20 primary.

“Everybody had a smile on their face,” said Superintendent Vic Zimmerman. “Pass or fail, we were going to show up. But after two failed attempts, it was nice to see everybody in a good mood this time.”

The ballot question was approved handily, 2,295 voting “yes” and 1,473 “no.” The vote in Piatt County was 2,271 in favor and 1,437 against the referendum. Thirty-five of 56 voters in Champaign County who reside in the Monticello district voted “no.” Three of the four DeWitt County votes were in favor of the ballot question.

More than five years after the school board began discussing facility upgrades, Superintendent Vic Zimmerman is glad to be moving forward with a project.

“We looked at probably 15 to 20 different combinations of plans since the second new high school plan didn’t pass. Different factions of the community have different beliefs on what is best for the school district,” said Zimmerman. “This is a good plan, it’s a compromise plan that addresses our needs at the high school along with some needs at the elementary school. When it’s all said and done we’ll end up with one less elementary school which makes us a little more efficient as a district.”

Monticello Schools Ref2018 spokesman Stefanie McLeese said a conscious effort was made to inform voters that this plan was different than the two prior ones that proposed construction of a new high school building.

“It was a real, steadfast focus on sharing facts,” she said. “We decided to communicate that this plan was truly different, and so when you talk about getting a win, I think it boils down to the fact not necessarily about the campaign itself, but about the plan. The plan was truly different, and that’s what made the difference.”

Construction will be done in phases with an estimated completion by the start of the 2020-21 school year. At that point the district will have a renovated high school – originally built in 1923 – along with new construction that will include a new competition-sized gymnasium and the addition of 12 classrooms at Washington Elementary, along with a science/STEM lab wing that will be added to the east side of the high school.

A revamped entryway and offices for the high school will also be part of the project.

The plan calls for the oldest school in the district, the 1894 era portion of Washington Elementary, to be demolished to pave way for the new gym, which would be used by elementary students during the school day and high school athletes for after school practices and evening competitions.

Monticello’s second oldest building, Lincoln Elementary, would also be closed as the Washington facility would shift from a fourth and fifth grade facility to one housing preschool through third graders.

“This plan is going to have to be in phases, where we build the new high school addition, we move the high school kids out of Washington into that addition and move the old Washington (building) kids into where the high school kids were, then tear down old Washington and build on, so it’s going to take a little longer than a new school would be,” added Zimmerman.

The committee that pushed for passage of past ballot questions took a softer, less partisan approach this time around, distributing information and encouraging people to get to the polls.

As a result of the approved referendum, the owner of a $100,000 home will pay an estimated $71 more per year in property taxes. Farmers will pay approximately $1.32 per acre in additional taxes.


 

News-Gazette Editor Jim Rossow also contributed to this article.

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