MAHOMET — The current Mahomet-Seymour Junior High School building could someday become a recreation center — which would include a swimming pool — for the entire community.
But that’s an idea — not a decision — and not even a plan yet.
It is one major topic that was covered during the Sept. 4 joint meeting of the Village of Mahomet Board of Trustees and the Mahomet-Seymour board of education. Leaders from the two entities aim to get together for a public meeting a couple of times a year to discuss projects that involve both of them. They said they hope to collect feedback from the community at large, as well.
Officials described the meeting as a first step in engaging the community to see what village residents and those in unincorporated Mahomet and the school district want to see in coming years for their town.
Among top points of discussion for actions that could be considered in the next few years:
— The school board may build a new junior high building on land the district owns south of the Middletown Prairie Elementary (MPE) School campus. The district owns a total of approximately 80 acres that include the land where MPE is located and south of it.
— The village may purchase the current junior high facility and campus from the school district at some point and convert it into a complex dubbed the “Mahomet Area Activity & Recreation Center” or MAARC.
— The village and school district may cooperate to, in part, extend South Mahomet Road to the east, cutting across school-owned property, to eventually connect with Prairieview Road; and also to extend Churchill Road south to what would be the newly extended South Mahomet Road, bringing new access to the MPE campus from the south.
— Clearly, both constructing a new junior high building and, separately, the revamping of the current junior high site into a recreation complex must be paid for with additional funds not currently available within the school district or the village’s coffers. It’s possible each would require a referendum asking voters to increase taxes to fund the projects. Any MAARC would require a significant funding source, such as the formation of a parks and recreation district.
“While this is not the first time we’re coming together, nor do I think it’s going to be our last, but tonight does represent something very significant for the entire community,” village President Sean Widener said in opening remarks at the meeting. “Tonight our boards will be starting a very important conversation that centers on the very fabric of our community: our schools and the quality of life we provide our residents.
“I think it’s important to recognize that something like this does not happen overnight,” he added. “It starts with an idea.
“It’s our duty as elected officials to work together and move forward together,” Widener said.
Later in the meeting, school board member Colleen Schultz stressed the need for taking time with large projects and making sure the public is involved in major decisions such as potentially building a new junior high south of MPE and converting the existing junior high facility into a rec center.
“We have to slow down and take it all in,” she said of board members.
Longtime school board member Merle Giles noted, “I think that collaboration is a great way to look at the big picture because we need to also be able to transfer the financial picture to all the people who pay one bill.”
Widener said it’s important for Mahomet residents and school district residents to know that leaders are on the same page.
“A lot of stuff is coming into aligment now,” he noted of ideas that village and school leaders have batted about informally for years. “The school board of education and board of trustees are working together on a common goal, and I think that’s good news.”
Between 30 and 35 people made up the audience at the meeting.
Future of M-S Junior High
Superintendent Lindsey Hall gave an overview of enrollment at the schools and the status of its facilities. The junior high was noted as the building that has no room to accommodate more students as enrollment rises.
The high school also was noted as having no further current space for more classes, but Max McComb, president of the school board, said there is land available at the high school campus for future building expansion.
McComb explained that district officials have looked at construction at the current junior high campus, but factors against that option include traffic congestion in the middle of the village, the low-lying land there and the consideration that the old school could be a viable option for recreation space for the village.
One idea that officials put forth is to, in coming years, build a new junior high facility south of MPE. The potential timeline for such a plan might have construction begin as soon as 2024, according to materials presented during the meeting.
As background, McComb explained that the MPE campus came together as part of an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) between the school system and the village. Some of the plans made at that time, about eight years ago, need to be altered now in light of other factors that have changed, he noted.
Separately, a 2013 village recreation facility feasibility study identified the need for a rec center or MAARC. At that time, village officials evaluated Mahomet-Seymour Junior High School’s building and campus as a potential site for the MAARC, Widener said. The school district’s consideration of the future of the junior high campus has come along the same timeline as the discussion in the village for the need and desire among residents for a rec center.
Officials did note at the meeting that the village may have first rights to purchase the junior high campus, including 13-acre park, for a total of 30 acres, if the school district ultimately decides to construct a new junior high near MPE. The estimated purchase price would be $750,000, but a new IGA likely would have to be entered into between the village and school district in order for that to happen.
and road extensions
As Widener noted multiple times, the village itself does not build roadways and infrastructure. Typically, that is a task of the developer of a subdivision, for example. In the case of MPE, it was the school district that was building in the area — originally platted as a subdivision — and, therefore, its responsibility to construct roads. Hence, Churchill Road was extended south along the east side of the MPE campus.
The school district owns land south of MPE that goes even farther south than a planned extension of the east-west South Mahomet Road. It is on some of the land just south of MPE that a new junior high school may be built. Eventually, Churchill would extend south to South Mahomet Road, which would at some point intersect to the east with Prairieview Road. Village officials hope to see more development around that nearby Interstate 74 interchange, Widener noted.
Extension of the East Mahomet Commercial Corridor TIF (Tax Increment Financing) district to the year 2035, which, according to a tentative timeline from Widener, might be requested from the state next year, would pay for the South Mahomet Road project, which is estimated at $7 million, or about $8.8 million with interest included.
Population growth behind
For both the village and the school district, population growth is driving these developments and discussions.
At the joint meeting, Widener discussed the population of the village and what that population dictates versus the population of unincorporated Mahomet. He noted that taxes to support Mahomet-Seymour schools are 58 percent of Mahomet-area residents’ property tax bill.
The village growth rate in population is slowing, but Mahomet is still growing overall. The growth rate was at or above 50 percent in the 1980s and 1990s and as recently as 2000, but slowed to 15.73 percent in 2016.
Hall reviewed school enrollment figures, which show continued growth expected in the student population. For the current school year, the district’s total student numbers are expected to hit 3,160, while that figure is anticipated to be 3,423 in the 2023-24 school year and up to 3,609 for the 2028-29 school year, she said.
Both village and school officials stressed that cooperation between the two entities will benefit the entire community of Mahomet.
“We’re talking about these different issues, and I think from a school obligation standpoint in the existing IGA and our obligation as far as to provide public access and mobility for this community, we’re looking this arrangement or this partnership as a win-win for both (constituencies) that we represent,” Widener said.
McComb added, “Back in 2010, there wasn’t a lot of communication back and forth between the village and the school district. The village had the plan and they were working their plan; the school district, we had our plan, and all of a sudden in 2010, the school district threw an 80-acre wrench (the purchase of the MPE campus and adjoining land) into the village’s plan, because nobody communicated.
“One thing I appreciate since then is the commitment ... to kind of share more back and forth,” he said. “And that’s been very helpful. And I think what you’re seeing tonight is the result of the fact that since 2010, we’ve stayed in touch, we’ve communicated and we’re really trying to look for win-win scenarios.”