Faced with a pressing need to address enrollment challenges, Central 301 embarked on a purpose-driven journey. Since 2017, our district has welcomed 875 new students—equivalent to the creation of an entire new school community! Faced with this growth, we crafted four thoughtful plans to accommodate our expanding student body. Our journey led us to engage with our community through Focus Groups, where we eagerly sought feedback. The purpose was to openly discuss and address enrollment challenges across all levels—elementary, middle, and high school. Our aim was to identify the most effective and sustainable solution for our community. These plans were carefully designed, offering a menu of solutions tailored to each level. As you explore further, you’ll discover that the overwhelmingly supported choice is to build a new high school, providing a comprehensive, enduring solution for the entire community. We invite you to join us in shaping the future of Central 301, where every student’s growth is at the heart of our journey. To view the presentation shared at our Town Hall events, click here.
WHERE WE’VE BEEN
What started as a small farming community in the late 1800’s has grown into a thriving rural-suburban community known for its strong school district. Through the decades, Central Community Unit School District 301 has maintained an average of 3% growth each year, with a current enrollment of more than 4,900 students. Over the years, the District has built multiple school buildings, with the current Central High School building opening in 1991. Since then, multiple additions have been put on CHS, as well as additions at Howard B. Thomas, Lily Lake, Prairie View Grade Schools, and Central Middle School. Most recently, cafeteria expansions were completed at Country Trails Elementary School and Prairie Knolls Middle School. To learn more about enrollment trends, click here.
In November 2016, the community approved a referendum for the high school expansion, envisioning space for 400 more students over 20 years. Since then, we have increased our enrollment by 395 students. We now recognize that the 20-year projection may have been determined with unintentional variations, possibly relying on a square footage calculator rather than enrollment forecasts.
HOW WE GOT THERE
In November of 2022, Central held three focus group meetings (2 in-person and 1 virtual) to share with the community information about our historical enrollment, future growth projections, and possible solutions. We shared four considerations and gathered feedback, and additional ideas, from participants. Additionally, 10 meetings were held in various locations in January through March of 2023 to answer questions and gather more feedback. A summary of the four proposed solutions are below.
- To learn more about how the community responded, click here.
Focus group feedback supported remaining a one-high-school district (instead of having two smaller high schools) and moving forward with building a new high school that would accommodate both current students already in our system and future enrollments in the years to come. During the focus group meetings, community members suggested putting all middle school students (grades 6-8) together in the current high school building. Knowing that we would need additional classroom space in the short term, as well as in the future if the current high school became a middle school, the District decided to spend $11 million of its fund balances to build a 20-classroom addition on CHS. While this addition provides much needed classroom space, it does not provide a solution to our challenges in the cafeteria/commons, career technical education program offerings, auditorium space, traffic congestion, and limited student parking.
Last spring, voters rejected the referendum on the ballot by a narrow margin. In order to better understand the feelings of our community, the District mailed “Let’s Connect” postcards to each address in our community without a student enrolled in the District, asking them to join our email group in order for us to better communicate with them. We also sent post-election surveys to our community to gather additional feedback from both parents involved in our educational system and community members at-large.
In this feedback, we heard repeatedly that voters had a hard time approving a referendum without knowing what it would look like. That led to the decision to invest the time and resources to develop a plan for a future building. A Steering Committee composed of District administrators, teachers, building staff, and community members was formed to assist the architect in creating a design that would meet the needs of our community while remaining fiscally responsible and within the $195 million dollar budget established.
WHERE WE ARE NOW
In November 2023, the Central 301 Board of Education approved the purchase of a new property on Route 47, as well as placing a referendum on the March 19, 2024 Primary Election ballot to request $195 million to build and equip a new high school to address district-wide growth challenges and resolve capacity and enrollment issues at all levels. The referendum will allow us to build a new high school on the newly acquired property but also allow space for future middle and elementary school construction when they are needed. The current high school building will become a middle school building, combining all students in grades 6-8 in one school. Prairie Knolls Middle School will become the fifth elementary school in the district. This will reduce the enrollment across all elementary buildings and eliminate the need for mobile classrooms. Central Middle School will continue to house a district program, possibly becoming an early childhood center.
We are designing the new Central High School to house up to 2,400 students initially, with expansion opportunities that will allow it to hold up to 3,000 students if needed. This facility provides the District with the opportunity to address the multiple challenges we are experiencing at our current high school by providing expanded career and technical education and fine arts facilities, improved instructional space for testing accommodations, student collaboration and special education needs, and additional student/event parking. This new building will provide an opportunity for our community to utilize athletic spaces at the current high school for expansion of our feeder programs and community programming.
As we approach the referendum, it is crucial to be transparent with our community members regarding the challenges associated with mobile units in our school district. Currently, mobile units are in use at all four grade schools and at Central High School. While these portable classrooms provide a quick solution to immediate space needs, we must highlight key concerns that impact our students and teachers. One significant challenge at the elementary level is the potential loss of instructional time due to the necessity of traveling inside the building for special classes and lunch.
In addition to this instructional concern, portable classrooms come with several disadvantages. They offer limited space, lack essential amenities for staff, and often create a less than ideal learning environment. Moreover, the long-term costs associated with maintenance, repairs, and replacements make them less financially sustainable. Safety and security issues, along with the potential impact on community perception, are also valid concerns. Notably, our reliance on mobile units has resulted in an annual cost of approximately $113,500 for sewage pumping. By pursuing the construction of a new high school, we aim to address these challenges comprehensively, ensuring a safer, more conducive learning environment, minimizing the loss of instructional time, and establishing a sustainable financial future for our school district.
- To learn more about the District Plan, click here.
- To view Preliminary Building Designs, click here.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR OUR COMMUNITY
As the years pass and our community continues to grow, we are confident that this referendum is a chance to remain a one high school district, while managing the growing needs of ALL levels through reutilization of current District buildings. As noted in the original plans, the proposed new high school extends the timeframe for the District to manage enrollment challenges district-wide. With construction costs increasing at a rate of 8-10% each year, it is unlikely that the District will be able to build a high school large enough to accommodate all high school students in the future. If we want to remain a one high school district, the time to do that is now.
We know that any referendum will bring questions about tax implications to homeowners. In order to minimize the tax burden for our community members, we are structuring our bond debt so that payment on the new bonds will begin when current bonds are paid off. This will reduce the impact to taxpayers.
Previous communications reflected an average home value of $335,000; however, this was limited to the village of Burlington. We recognize that many of our families have home values that are higher. A homeowner with a $400,000 home will see an increase of approximately $170 each year, beginning in 2027. That equates to roughly $14 a month, or about the same as the average ad-free monthly streaming service subscription. To learn more about the tax implications and view our tax calculator tool, click here.
We want to express our appreciation for you taking the time to view the webpage and we hope that you will take time to come out to hear about the further plans at our Town Hall Meetings. You can view the dates of these meetings here. We understand that the decision ahead carries significant weight, impacting your personal finances. It’s important to consider that, given our current enrollment and capacity challenges, addressing this matter is pressing and will require attention soon. By committing to addressing our challenges, we allow all Central 301 students to graduate as a Rocket for years to come.
We know you may have further questions and we are here to answer them. Please email us