MAHOMET, Ill. (WCIA) — Voters in the village of Mahomet and the town of Seymour will vote Tuesday on a proposal to replace or expand all of the district’s public schools.

Advocates in support of the “Bulldog Blueprint” — a $97.9 million bond referendum — say it became necessary as the pace of population growth in Mahomet picked up in the last few years, outgrowing its classrooms.

The more dire need is replacing the junior high school, according to Mahomet-Seymour Community Schools officials.

“It’s designed with very narrow halls, very small rooms, we’re overcrowded,” school board president Max McComb explained Monday.

“We’re just flat out of space.”

Mahomet-Seymour Junior High was first built as a high school in 1961. It was converted in 1981 when the current high school was built.

Based on its age, condition and the fact that it was designed to better suit high schoolers, McComb said simply adding on would not be a good use of taxpayer money in the long run. The board’s final plan still includes a chunk of taxpayer change and on June 28, the voters will ultimately decide if it’s a worthwhile cause.

Jim Risely was a teacher at the junior high for more than three decades before he retired in 2014. He was also a part of creating the most recent referendum when the discussion first opened in 2020.

“I was appointed the chairman of the Citizens for Bulldog Blueprint while I was out walking my dog,” Risley laughed referring to his work as an advocate for the plan.

“We really just need, at this point, to walk away from that building as a junior high,” McComb said.

The final price tag to make a lot behind Middletown Prairie Elementary into the new middle school is $57 million, the bulk of the nearly $98 million dollar plan.

“I think it was conservative,” Risley said. “I felt like it was responsible.”

The money that doesn’t go into the junior high will go toward expanding the rest of the district’s public schools, including upgrades meant to improve traffic flow.

Courtesy: Mahomet-Seymour Community Schools

“There were a lot of varying thoughts out there, but this is the plan that got good, strong community consensus,” McComb said.

The school board approved it in February and in April, the Illinois House of Representatives authorized a temporary increase in the district’s borrowing limit (up to the project’s $97,900,000 price point) so the board can issue bonds to cover the cost.

McComb said, to his knowledge, this was a first time ask of the state legislature by the board, adding, “That has become more and more common across the state in recent years as districts do projects because the debt limits are older.”

A referendum on next Tuesday’s ballot will ask taxpayers in Mahomet-Seymour if they’re willing to take on a rise in property taxes to help pay back the lenders and acrued interest.

If they own a home valued at $100,000, the referendum would push the property tax bill up by $295 a year. If it’s worth $250,000, the bill would go up an estimated $727 for the next 20 years.

Renée: Are there any concerns with raising property taxes for people considering their living expenses are going up everywhere else?

McComb: Sure. Property taxes are never something people get excited about.

Risely: It is a difficult time for a referendum and all of these reasons, even collectively for me personally, they don’t outweigh the responsibility we have to give our kids a classroom.

Courtesy: Mahomet-Seymour Community Schools

The property tax increase would expire along with the bond in 2042 unless it’s renewed for additional projects, which would require another vote.

Community members expressed some concerns during board meetings following the February proposal, including whether the approved plan will change once an architect is hired.

“They could potentially get tweaked a little bit, but we are committed to doing the parts of the plan that were presented,” McComb assured when this concern was raised.

The expansion would cover district needs at least until 2040, according to the plan displayed publicly on the district’s website. It’s not clear whether the expansion in the area will have leveled off at that point.

McComb says if the referendum doesn’t pass Tuesday, “we’re going to have some very serious space concerns and I would expect to be back in front of the voters with a plan again.”

The board projects fixing every known gap in the district would cost closer to $128 million, but McComb says members “didn’t want to go to the taxpayers beyond what we felt was urgent, so those are things that could be paid for, like I said, in 10 years when the sales tax money becomes free again from building Middletown Prairie.”

The board president wasn’t sure what will take the place of the junior high. The plan is to keep the building available for classroom overflow while the construction of the new school is ongoing.

Voters in several other school districts will have a say on bond referendums during the Primary Election. Neoga’s school board requests a vote to make $3.5 million worth of upgrades to its facilities, according to the Illinois Association of School Boards. Sullivan CUSD is seeking $25 million in renovations and Arthur, $30.6 million.