By Kevin Boneske
ASHWAUBENON – Before spending money on a plan for installing air conditioning throughout Ashwaubenon High School, Valley View and Pioneer elementary schools, the board of education wants to know if district residents would support the project.
The district’s business director, Keith Lucius, informed the board at its meeting Wednesday, March 20, about the air conditioning project, which is included on a list of possible referendum projects that could go before district voters next year, having a significantly higher cost than expected with a design plan expense of $33,000.
Lucius said he didn’t want to commit that amount of money toward planning a possible project, unless the board wanted to proceed with that.
Last month, board members favored hiring a consultant to get more accurate cost estimates for potential referendum projects.
Prior to seeking out a consultant, the district’s estimate listed the cost of installing air conditioning at the three schools at $2.5 million, based on $1 million at AHS, $1 million at Valley View and $500,000 at Pioneer.
Board President Jay Van Laanen, who last month questioned which potential referendum projects would be wants or needs, said air conditioning “would definitely be a want.”
“I don’t know if I would be in favor, you know, of spending $1 million on air conditioning when that $1 million can be spent somewhere it would be a lot more beneficial for the district,” Van Laanen said. “That’s my thought.”
Board Clerk Jennifer Vyskocil raised concerns about the cost of getting an estimate for air conditioning being about as much as the annual cost of a district staff position.
“And although I do love air conditioning – I’m from Los Angeles – in Wisconsin we don’t necessarily need it as badly, I don’t think,” Vyskocil said.
Lucius noted the high school is used for summer school for four weeks from the second half of June to the first half in July.
“The (elementary schools) are not used as much during the summer, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t doing some staff development, or there aren’t other things going on, or there couldn’t be uses for it,” he said. “I’d think we’d see more use if we had air conditioning.”
Lucius said it’s his opinion the focus on having air conditioning should be the learning environment during the school year.
“You get a couple weeks in May and June, and maybe a week in September, where the temperatures get high,” he said. “When the temperatures get high, clearly the second floor of the high school and the second floor of Pioneer, it gets really warm and the learning environment suffers… We have a limited number of days, and we want to be as effective as we can in those days. And that’s where the impact is.”
Lucius said he expects the cost for retrofitting the three buildings for air conditioning would be high because they were not designed for that.
Board members agreed with a suggestion from Lucius to talk about idea of installing air conditioning when holding public meetings on possible referendum projects, and when surveying district residents, mention the “ballpark number” what air conditioning might cost.
“We’re (going to be) clear that, we’re going to have to invest more money, if the community supports this, to determine the exact number,” Lucius said. “We’ll need that number before we determine a referendum amount, if the community supports (installing air conditioning).”
Lucius said a community meeting is being tentatively planned for May 21 in the Ashwaubenon Performing Arts Center to get feedback on possible referendum projects.
In addition to other possible projects with existing facilities, such as replacing three gym floors, repairing the high school track and remodeling the old high school commons into a new district office, the construction of a new multi-purpose building is also being considered for inclusion in a potential referendum.
Based on $14-15 million worth of project costs, Lucius informed the board last month the district could hold a referendum next year with the debt to be paid back over 15 years at around $1 million per year and keep the tax rate constant, given the district is paying off its existing debt this year.