ROCHESTER – Emphasizing the critical need for a statewide commitment to school construction projects around Illinois, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich today called on the Illinois Legislature to approve $550 million in school construction and maintenance projects, including about $10.2 million which would go to Rochester Community Unit District 3A. The funding is included in the Governor’s $3.2 billion capital plan.
"We have a responsibility to the children of Illinois to provide the best education we can offer and that includes everything from books to bricks and mortar. This vital school construction plan will allow many school districts to construct new buildings or make much needed improvements that will enhance learning and teaching conditions in schools such as Rochester Community District 3A. This is a tremendous opportunity to help our children, and we should not let it pass us by," said Gov. Blagojevich.
In the Governor’s plan, $350 million would be dedicated to school construction projects in 275 districts seeking state support for local projects.
Rochester and 23 other school districts were promised $150 million in construction grants in 2002 and have not yet received their state funding for the projects. Many of these schools districts have found themselves in dire straits as taxpayers have pledged their local share of money for the projects. Rochester has been at the top of the state’s school construction priority list since 2002.
In 2002, in part based on the promise of state support for the school construction project, Rochester voters approved an $8 million bond referendum to fund the local share of the sorely needed school construction project.
In 2005, Rochester voters returned to the polls and approved an additional $11.2 million referendum to cover the state’s share of the school construction projects while continuing to wait for state reimbursement.
Rochester School Superintendent Thomas Bertrand said the district has struggled for years with facilities that date back to the 1920s.
"The community had no choice but to move ahead with the projects. We were literally at a crisis level," Superintendent Bertrand said.
The Rochester Junior High School has been forced to cancel school attendance days due to an inoperable boiler and has endured repeated flooding and sewer problems as well as electrical difficulties.
The new funding for construction projects will allow Rochester Community Unit School District 3A and other school districts to address the issues of obsolete and inadequate school buildings and enable them to construct facilities that meet the educational needs of their children.
The Rochester school district has embarked on a two-phased project, providing for additions to the elementary school, an addition to Rochester High School, demolition of the current junior high, construction of a new Performing Arts Center and junior high school, remodeling and expansion of the cafeteria and other related work.
Illinois School Superintendent Randy Dunn said that up-to-date facilities are crucial to providing the proper learning environment for Illinois children.
"In communities like Rochester, the schools are the center of activity for the entire community. This really becomes a broader quality-of-life issue for a community in cases such as this," Dunn said.
The Rochester school district serves more than 2,100 students. Rochester is a growing community, adding about 100 students to the overall school roster each year.
In all, Gov. Blagojevich’s plan includes $550 million for school construction an maintenance projects, including:
$150 million for 24 school districts that received state commitments in Fiscal Year 02 that are still unfounded.
$350 million to be divided between some of the 275 school districts with grant applications on file at the Illinois School Board of Education based on district needs and available matching funds.
$50 million will be made available for school maintenance program grants.
Many school districts which have approved referenda to support school funding in their communities but continue to wait on the state share of funding are seeing their window of opportunity about to expire as the local money will not be available any longer if the state does not come through with its share.
The Governor’s $3.2 billion capital bill would create 230,000 jobs in Illinois, as well as build modern school facilities, roadways and upgrade mass transit systems.
Central Illinois will benefit from a number of other projects in the capital bill including:
$40.3 million for the IL Route 29 expansion from Springfield to Taylorville. This would expand Route 29 from south of Berry to Edinburg, which is 6.6 miles.
$21.06 million for the US Route 51 expansion for the Assumption Bypass.
More than $7 million for the 11th Street extension in Springfield.
$5 million to widen and expand 5th Street Road in Lincoln from Lincoln Parkway to Connolley.
More than $3 million in state and federal funds to extend MacArthur Blvd. from Wabash to Iron Bridge Road in Springfield.
$900,000 in state and federal funds for Cockrell Lane in Springfield.
State and federal commitments for the Capitol Avenue project from 7th to 11th Streets in Springfield.