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SPRINGFIELD — Educators added their voices Tuesday to the chorus calling for a new public works construction program in Illinois.

As discussions continue on the state's first capital bill in a decade, school officials said they want to ensure schools are part of a plan if it is approved.

"Illinois is certainly in the position of needing another capital bill to enhance classrooms across the state," said Brent Clark, executive director of the Illinois Association of School Administrators. "We have many schools that are still using mobile classrooms or classrooms that are outdated in terms of 21st century learning."

He also said life-safety concerns are still an issue as are requirements to upgrade classes for vocational and STEM education.

Springfield School Superintendent Jennifer Gill said that even though taxpayers last fall approved a countywide sales tax to pay for school infrastructure, proceeds from the tax won't be enough to cover all of the district's construction needs.

The district has identified over $300 million in infrastructure needs over the next 30 years. The sales tax, which goes into effect this summer, will produce about $10 million a year for Springfield public schools, she said.

"We were fortunate enough in November to get public permission from our community to embark on some of these important facilities upgrades," Gill said. "But even that money alone will not cover the needs that we have. The urgency for K-12 vertical construction is here. It is across the state."

District 186 has 33 buildings, 80 percent of which are over 50 years old, Gill said. Most of the work being done now is for life-safety improvements.

"Many of them are turn-of-the-century buildings that we are renovating and still maintaining," she said.

Statewide, schools need about $7.5 billion worth of upgrades and new construction, Clark said. At this point, though, no one has come up with a revenue stream to pay the capital plan. That's unlike proponents of transportation projects who have called for doubling the gasoline tax as a major component of paying for those projects.

Clark said a school construction program would likely require a mix of state and local funds as capital plans have required in the past. He said it would be up to the legislature to determine if the districts most in financial need would get priority for their projects.

There is widespread agreement between lawmakers of both parties and Gov. J.B. Pritzker that the state needs a new capital bill. However, with less than three weeks left in the spring session, no plan has yet surfaced.

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