MORTON — The Morton School Board wrestled Thursday with a question that's been on the board table and discussed by other board members for several years.

Should the K-12 district consider building a new grades 5-8 middle school or new high school or add onto existing buildings to deal with long-term facilities and programming challenges?

The latest estimates are $52.9 million to construct a new middle school and $74.9 million to build a new high school, not including infrastructure improvements and work at other schools.

A new approach to financing construction was suggested Thursday by board member Bart Rinkenberger during a special committee of the whole meeting on facilities.

Rinkenberger said the school district should explore establishing a capital campaign to see if donors would be willing to step forward.

His idea wasn't unanimously supported by other board members, but Superintendent Jeff Hill will do research to find out what have been the best past practices and what steps the school district could take.

"We'll never know who might make donations if we don't at least try," Rinkenberger said. "If I'm wrong about this idea, I'll be the first to say it was a bad idea. We might even get people in the community who are passionate about building a new school to work (on the campaign)."

Board member Jeff Schmidgall said if not enough money is raised for construction, he would not be in favor of putting a referendum on the ballot to cover the rest of the cost.

A board decision on building a new middle school or high school or adding onto existing buildings was delayed, at least until the board learns more about what a capital campaign would look like.

Rinkenberger thinks the long-term facilities decision should be made sooner than later.

"With all due respect to previous boards, they took a more short-sighted approach," he said. "If we continue to do that, we'll keep kicking the can down the road."

Hill also will be exploring the cost and ramifications of short-term programming and facilities suggestions he's made to improve Morton students' academic performance. An estimated $1.7 million will be needed for his new strategies, with $2.1 million available in reserves and through other sources.

The superintendent surveyed six similar K-12 school districts, most in central Illinois, and found Morton to be in the middle of the pack on test scores and other academic barometers.

"We shouldn't be enamored with the fact that we do well academically statewide. I don't want our district to be average when it comes to our peers," said board member Shad Beaty.

Full-day kindergarten for all Morton students will be researched by Hill as part of an initiative to improve reading. Of the seven districts in Hill's survey, Morton is the only one that does not offer full-day kindergarten to all students.

Steve Stein can be reached at 686-3114 or stevestein21@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.