High school building referendum still possible

Patrick Grillot

One major question emerged from Monday’s Washington Community High School District 308 board meeting.

“What is the next step, or is there a next step?” asked board president Jim Gerkin, referring to the building referendum that voters rejected in April.

The board decided to hold a special meeting at 7 p.m. Aug. 24 in the WCHS library to decide on a possible referendum to renovate the high school.

Paula Queen of Gilbane Building Co.’s Midwest regional office in Chicago explained why a December survey conducted by a St. Louis marketing firm that said the referendum would pass easily.

She said the December survey “gauged attitude towards the district, not voter approval” of the referendum.

Also, the demographic survey did not match the voter turnout, she said. Of the registered Washington voters who voted in the last four elections, 54.3 percent were age 60 and older, but only 16.3 percent of those surveyed in December were in that age group. Of the 4,327 who voted in April, 3,624 (84 percent) were age 45 and older.

In response to those numbers, Queen suggested campaigning to get high-school-aged students to vote.

She showed that the referendum was rejected by all 18 precincts in the district, with disapproval ranging from 60 percent to 85 percent. Queen also cited “cost, economy and propensity of those most apt to vote” as reasons the referendum was defeated.

The next possible date the referendum could be placed on the ballot is Feb. 2, 2010.

Queen made the presentation as a sample of how, if hired by the district, Gilbane and C&M Communications could help pass a referendum.

In other action:

• the board responded to inquiries by soccer parents about the cost of installing lights on the high school soccer field. The Peoria design firm AECOM estimates it would cost between $175,000 to $200,000 in construction costs and an additional $15,500 for pre-construction services. While superintendent Jim Dunnan said he would like to get some use out of the old football lights, he noted that purchasing new lights for the soccer field might be a better use of money.

• heard from Five Points Washington officials, who reported on the facility’s financial progress, noting that it generated $2.2 million in income during 2008. The facility boasts about 6,800 members, which includes 25 percent of residents in the 61571 ZIP code.

• heard from city administrator Bob Morris on the city’s residential housing boom since the start of the decade. While 2009 numbers are down compared to previous years, Morris said he was happy to see 47 housing units created through July 31. If the projection of 80 units proves true, it will be the city’s lowest since 1998, but Morris said he would still consider it a good year. From 1999 to 2008, an average 151 permits have been issued each year, with a high of 309 in 2005.