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How delays, disaster could move some area schools to top of funding list
By John Patterson | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 10/13/2009 12:02 AM

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SPRINGFIELD - When lawmakers approved a multibillion-dollar construction budget this spring, they spelled out 23 school districts first in line for the new money.

That's because those districts had been told as far back as a decade ago that they were about to get millions of state dollars for their construction projects. They'd approved their local tax increases, applied to the state, had their projects ranked and assigned a share of the total that the state would cover.

Unfortunately for them, the money ran dry and political battles at the Capitol stalled annual efforts to replenish it. Now those districts will be the first to get checks.

Area schools on that list include Winfield Elementary District 34, Carol Stream Elementary District 93, Villa Park Elementary District 45, Big Hollow Elementary District 38 in Ingleside and Westmont Unit District 201.

However, the money hasn't arrived yet and local school officials have grown wary of state promises that the check is almost in the mail.

"I think if we see it next summer, we'd be happy," said Winfield Superintendent Gwynne Kell.

At least one other suburban district hopes to get moved to the top of the priority list. Once districts like Winfield are funded, state officials will next turn to requests from districts where natural disasters spurred a need for construction.

There are five such schools currently seeking such state help, including Gurnee Elementary District 56 where the Des Plaines River routinely leaves its banks and swamps Gurnee Grade School, home to roughly 400 students and the district's administrative and transportation centers.

"I've been superintendent three years and we've sandbagged this building every year," said Superintendent John Hutton.

The district wants to build a new $25 million school elsewhere and let the current site be used to help control future flooding. Without substantial state help, Hutton questions if that can happen. District voters rejected previous tax increases.

"I just don't know if this community has the ability to finance this project," Hutton said.

State construction officials recently visited the district to review the request, but no announcements have been made.