RACINE — Racine Unified officials plan to spend about $42 million on school building energy-efficiency projects and updated science labs.

Money for the projects would initially be borrowed but would eventually come from property taxes. The projects would not increase taxes though, instead maintaining tax levels as other expenses — including a previous referendum — fall off tax bills, district officials said.

Board members on Monday voted unanimously during a meeting at Unified’s central office, 3109 Mount Pleasant St., to notify the public of their intent to borrow $42,250,000 by putting a notice in The Journal Times soon. The public will have 30 days past the notice publication date to collect signatures and petition against the project. If no signature petitions get completed, the board can vote to actually borrow the money, said Unified CFO Dave Hazen.

With the money, energy-efficiency projects ranging from more efficient lighting to water conservation efforts would be completed at 25 school buildings. Science labs also would be updated at five Unified middle schools. The projects could begin as soon as this summer with all slated for completion by December 2013, district documents show.

Projects were identified based on positive learning impacts — like windows that keep students warmer in winter and science labs that allow for more projects and technology use — and the potential for saving money including by eliminating projects from the district’s maintenance list, according to Hazen and Unified documents.

The district has estimated that $39 million of the district‘s $90 million deferred maintenance project list would be eliminated through the proposed projects. That savings plus cheaper energy bills should exceed the projects’ total cost, including any interest, in 20 years, if not sooner, Hazen said. He could not provide an exact savings amount because interest rates and amounts are not yet known.

If savings end up lower than expected once an amount is set, the companies that identify the projects and coordinate their completion would pay Unified the difference because the district would enter into “performance contracts,” according to Unified documents.

“They take on the risk,” Unified spokeswoman Stacy Tapp said.

Short-term borrowing interest for the projects, to get some started this summer, could be included in 2012-13 property taxes. But the amount would take the place of tax money collected this past year for middle school lighting upgrades, Hazen said.

The principal amount and long-term borrowing interest would be included in property taxes starting in 2013-14 and lasting up to 20 years, Hazen said. He could not say what the exact tax rate and amount of time would be because such information depends on market factors like interest rates that will not be known until money for the projects has been borrowed. Hazen did say that taxpayers should not notice a difference in their tax bills because of the projects, though.

A previous maintenance referendum, passed in 2008 to collect $3.3 million annually for five years, will expire from tax bills after 2012-13 and the newly proposed projects would take the referendum’s place starting in 2013-14, Hazen said.

“We have $3.3 million coming off the levy and we would replace that with up to $3.3 million in debt service,” he said.

Because the money is for energy conservation projects, state law allows Unified to collect it in taxes without going to a referendum even though it pushes district revenue over the state-imposed revenue cap.

RUSD energy projects

Racine Unified officials have proposed spending $42 million on energy-efficiency projects and science lab upgrades at 26 school buildings. These are the five schools with the most costly upgrades. See the attached documents for a complete list of projects and costs.

- McKinley Middle School: $9,080,000 for water conservation efforts, replacement boiler and HVAC system, and upgrades to windows, doors, roof, science labs and bathrooms.

- Mitchell elementary and middle school: $6,886,000 for water conservation efforts, replacement boiler and HVAC system, and upgrades to bathrooms, windows, doors, roof and science labs.

- Case High School: $4,500,000 for athletic area renovations, boiler replacement, HVAC recommissioning, curtain wall improvements and parking lot lighting.

- Jerstad-Agerholm elementary and middle school: $4,200,000 for water conservation efforts and upgrades to windows, doors, bathrooms, roof and science labs.

- Park High School: $3,000,000 for boiler replacement, HVAC upgrades and water conservation efforts.

SOURCE: Racine Unified documents


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