State halts funding to school construction project already underway in Kinmundy

Construction crews work on the expansion at South Central Elementary School this month. The state cut the funding for the project Wednesday. Submitted photo

Since early spring, construction of new classrooms and a gymnasium has been going as planned at South Central Elementary School in Kinmundy. But that recently changed when the state abruptly halted payments for the project.

The stopped payments are apparently tied to the financial problems Illinois is facing, but state officials could not immediately explain Monday afternoon the reason.

"We would have never started this if the money wasn't there," District 401 Superintendent Rick Batchelor said. "I don't want to use the word lie, but somewhere along the line, we were lied to."

The state pledged to pay the district more than $9 million for expansions at the elementary school in Kinmundy and the high school in Farina, according to Batchelor. Although construction began in the spring on the elementary school project, work to add classrooms and build a cafeteria at the high school has not yet started.

On June 15, the district received a check for $1.9 million. Two days later, school officials were told that no more money was available for the projects.

The district had originally been awarded the money in 2010, according to Batchelor. But it wasn't until this year that the district was told it would receive the funds.

"Had they given us the money when they said they would four years ago, this project would be over with," Batchelor said.

Batchelor said he's not sure what will happen with the project since it is already underway. District officials have been trying to reach state representatives to see if the funds can get restored.

The superintendent is scheduled to retire June 30. So the funding issue will be up to the new superintendent, Kerry Herdes, and the school board to handle.

"If the state tells us that they don't have the funds and we can't do the project -- well, that's one thing," Batchelor said. "But to tell us that they do have the funds and then pull out when we're halfway through is another. That's ludicrous."

Stan Polanski can be reached at stan.polanski@effinghamdailynews.com or 217-347-7151 ext. 131.