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Washington District 52 wants to build a new Lincoln Grade School. Voters will decide on April 4

A typical day at Lincoln Grade School sees bumper-to-bumper students in the hallways.
Washington District 52
A typical day at Lincoln Grade School sees bumper-to-bumper students in the hallways.

District 52 voters are being asked to change the course of history in the Washington school district.

They'll vote April 4 on a proposal to close Lincoln Grade School, built in 1949 with six additions tacked on through the years, and build a new 68,000-square-foot Lincoln on the campus of Washington Middle School, the K-8 district's other building.

The two schools would be connected, resulting in a cost savings and more efficiency in daily operations, shared personnel and space usage, improved traffic flow, continued accessibility for walkers and bike riders, and the possible purchase of an adjacent lot, according to district officials.

The district is asking residents for $20 million of the proposed $21.3 million project in the referendum. The remainder of the cost would come from district reserves.

For the owner of a home valued at $100,000, it would mean a $15 per tax month increase. The increase would be $33 monthly for a $200,000 home and $52 monthly for a $300,000 home.

The district's $2.97 per $100 tax rate is the lowest among K-8 districts in Tazewell County. If the referendum passes, the rate would increase to $3.63 per $100.

Construction on the new school would begin in February 2024 with the new Lincoln opening in August 2025.

"We originally talked about demolishing Lincoln and building a new school on the site. But we decided last year that building a school on the same campus at the middle school was a better plan," said School Board President Tim Custis.

Former Washington Community High School Superintendent Jim Dunnan is a member of a committee that is campaigning for passage of the referendum.

He said having Lincoln on the middle school campus at 1100 N. Main St., would be improve transportation logistics, security, and provide a connectivity in education.

"It would be easy for the seventh- and eighth-graders to work with the younger students," he said.

The infrastructure at Lincoln Grade School has seen better days.
Washington District 52

On the flip side, Dunnan said, besides needing the constant maintenance that's required in an old building, the current Lincoln's small classrooms and halls create crowded conditions "and there's a movement in education today toward collaboration. There's just no space to do that in that school. It doesn't fit today's pedagogy."

There also are accessibility issues in Lincoln, original steam heat and older windows in 35% of the building, original fixtures and plumbing in the bathrooms and air quality and ventilation concerns, according to district officials.

If the referendum passes, Lincoln may get a new lease on life. The Washington Park District has expressed an interest in purchasing the building at 303 Jackson St.

Park District Executive Director Brian Tibbs said the district sees purchasing Lincoln as an exciting opportunity, but no offer has been made.

"We're having a facility study done. That's the only action our board has taken concerning the school," Tibbs said.

"It's great a location for us. Our main maintenance facility is nearby, and so is our largest park (55-acre Washington Park) and our recreation trail."

Washington Park features four baseball and softball diamonds including Jan Smith Field, home of the Washington Community High School softball team, a Veteran's Memorial, an 18-hole disc golf course, three shelters, three tennis courts, two batting cages and a sand volleyball court.

It's also the location for the annual Washington Arts Festival.

The park district's current office and facility at 105 S. Spruce St., the former Washington Middle School, "is nearing the end of its useful life," Tibbs said. "Lincoln is a newer building and it has more square feet."

Dunnan said Lincoln "still has life. It would serve the park district well. Lincoln has educational limitations. That wouldn't be the primary use for the park district."

Tibbs said the park district won't need to raise taxes if it purchases Lincoln because bonds for a pool renovation and construction of Five Points Washington will come off the books at the same time the park district would move into the school.

If the referendum fails and the School Board decides to go in a different direction, it would cost an estimated $11.6 million to renovate Lincoln, barring any unexpected finds in the old building. The cost for a renovation and 20,680-square-foot addition at the current site is estimated at $16.3 million.

Each project would require a referendum.

Steve Stein is an award-winning news and sports writer and editor. Most recently, he covered Tazewell County communities for the Peoria Journal Star for 18 years.