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School board reviews estimated costs for possible referendum questions

By Kevin Boneske
Staff Writer

ASHWAUBENON – If all the proposed options for referendum questions the school board is considering for next April are included, the estimated cost will exceed $20 million.

Board members received an update of the project costs at their Wednesday, Aug. 14, meeting from Business Director Keith Lucius.

Lucius said the estimates the district received on several of the larger projects from Brander Engineering, the district’s architect, are higher than the originally estimated amounts prior to the firm obtaining more specific cost projections with a 15 percent contingency factored into the estimates.

He noted the most expensive project on the list, a new multi-use facility with a turf field, has an estimated cost more than $1 million higher than previously projected at around $9.7 million, based on being built with a total of 53,000 square feet.

“If we need to get that cost down, we could make (the facility) a smaller size,” Lucius said. “The size that’s factored in here is the same size as Kimberly’s, which is on the larger size of the comparables that we’ve seen. Kaukauna’s is much smaller, but I don’t think we want to go that way, because… they didn’t have a lot of things. But we could go to a smaller facility if we thought that ($9.7 million) was cost-prohibitive.”

A new multi-use facility, which has been proposed at Ashwaubenon High School to provide more indoor space for a variety of programs as well as practice space in the event of poor weather, would be located in the current parking lot next to the Performing Arts Center.

“We don’t have all those details drawn out (to build a multi-purpose facility at the high school),” Lucius said. “We basically looked at what the Kimberly facility was and assumed the spaces would be similar.”

Lucius said the masonry of the multi-purpose facility would match the high school, while the roof would be curved so as not to look like a big barn and be “neighbor-friendly” in appearance.

Projects to improve safety at Cormier and Pioneer Elementary School are also higher than originally estimated.

Lucius said the estimated cost is now around $2 million at Cormier for a major redesign of the office entrance, redesigning the parking/parent drop-off area and updating the school’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

Lucius said work to the office/parent entrance at Pioneer is estimated to cost around $880,000.

He said the details of the Cormier and Pioneer safety projects haven’t been finalized yet, and the estimates include a 15 percent contingency, so those costs could be reduced.

After a new high school commons was completed last year in the area of the former swimming pool, the site of the old commons has been proposed for remodeling to relocate the district office there.

Originally estimated at $600,000, Lucius said that is now projected to cost more than $1 million.

“The district office was one of the numbers that really surprised me,” he said. “That number came in quite a bit higher than what we’ve been projecting to move the district office to the high school.”

In the event the district office wouldn’t be moved from its current location in a separate building at 1055 Griffiths Lane, where the district could put the property up for sale, Lucius said something would still have to be done with the former high school commons space.

“Remodeling that space into classrooms or anything else is going to be similar costs,” he said. “It’s one of things that we can leave it as it is and clean it up to make it safe, and it’s just got an open space.”

Given the possible overall referendum questions costs, Lucius said it would be up to the board to decide whether moving the district office to the high school is a priority project.

Lucius said another estimate that had “a little sticker shock” related to the proposal to add air conditioning for the entire buildings at the high school, Pioneer and Valley View Elementary School with the overall projected cost of $4.35 million for the three schools exceeding initial estimates by almost $2 million.

“As you can see, the high school costs far exceeded the $1 million we had projected,” he said. “It’s coming in at about $2.3 million. Valley View’s cost is coming in at $1.4-1.5 million and Pioneer’s at $600,000, so those are up quite a bit.”

At the high school, Lucius said the HVAC system doesn’t have forced air, so duct work, etc., would have to be added to provide air conditioning throughout the building.

“What we’ll have is a more modern and energy-efficient system,” he said. “We would save a lot of custodial maintenance time repairing those unit ventilators and cleaning those unit ventilators, which happens every year to every one of them. There’s some cost savings to offset this, but I’m not going to tell you it’s anywhere near the cost differential.”

Because of the support expressed for adding air conditioning at the public forum in May, Lucius said the district had Brander put together a detailed design plan for the three schools at a cost of $33,000.

Lucius said another firm with expertise in athletic facilities, Rettler, looked at the high school track and estimated it would cost $680,000 to repair the dip in the track, improve the base and replace the fencing to meet WIAA requirements.

Operational referendum questions

In addition to nearly $20 million in estimated costs that could be included as a part of referendum questions for capital projects, Lucius said an operational referendum could also be held to pay for ongoing expenses with the state allowing school districts to hold up to two referendum questions per year.

If air conditioning would be added at the high school, Valley View and Pioneer, he said $80,000 could be included in an operation referendum to pay the estimated annual utility cost to operate that system for approximately 35 school days when it would need to run.

The bulk of the $730,000 proposed for an operational referendum question, $650,000 annually, would go toward student mental health and support services.

Director of Pupil Services Tammy Nicholson said the district-wide effort to provide those service could continue and be built on with operational referendum questions.

Nicholson said the referendum question could be used to hire additional staff to support teachers, who are “getting burned out right now, because they’re dealing with so much.”

“It’s great to have a behavioral support person come in and give some ideas,” she said. “And honestly, just from a mental health standpoint for the teachers, it’s reassuring to know I’m not in this by myself.”

Though an operational referendum could be for three to five years and allow the district to override the revenue limit, Lucius said the district would be coming back to voters for permission to continue that spending when the referendum expires.

“This isn’t three years and done and then it goes away, or five years and done and it goes away,” he said. “This is something that we would anticipate we need to keep. It’s important that these needs aren’t going away. It’s an ongoing thing. Our taxpayers need to understand that, and we need to be clear with them that this is a long-term solution to the problem.”

Holding a subsequent operational referendum after the initial one would pass, Lucius said, could adjust the referendum amount, if the board determined more or less money was needed.

“I think this is a pretty big step, and it’s a lot of people to hire to bring in the support,” he said. “I think ($650,000 is) the right starting point.”

Lucius said passage of a referendum wouldn’t stop the district from pursuing grants related to mental health.

“I do not want you to think that we are going to stop writing grants, because we are going to push for every single penny we can get to work with for different services for our kids,” Nicholson added. “We’re not going to stop writing grants just because we get this (referendum passed), because the more we get, the more we can help our kids.”
Superintendent Kurt Weyers called the mental health and support services “something that is valuable and very much needed.”

Referendum survey

Lucius said the district has been working with the firm School Perceptions to put together a survey that will be mailed out to district residents around late September to early October to provide information and receive feedback on what could be included for a referendum.

Board members discussed a draft of the survey last week.

Given the estimated cost of the proposed multi-purpose building approaching $10 million, board member Paul Trondson suggested asking a separate question on the survey to find out the level of support from district residents for the facility to help decide whether to include that in a referendum.

Lucius said a survey question could be put together related to the referendum amount district voters would be willing to support, while it would up to the board to decide which projects to put in or keep out of a referendum.

He said the board will hear from School Perceptions at its Sept. 11 meeting.

Because the district paid off its previous referendum debt this year, Lucius said the school’s mill rate could remain constant or would have a minimal impact if voters next year approved an $8 million referendum paid back over 15 years.

With a $20 million capital referendum paid back over 20 years, the maximum term allowed for borrowing, Lucius said that would add 60 cents per $1,000 to the district’s mill rate, while an operational referendum for $730,000 annually would add 55 cents per $1,000 for a projected total mill rate increase of $1.15 per $1,000.

Another public forum related to what to include in possible referendum questions is scheduled for 6 p.m. Sept. 18 at the Performing Arts Center.

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