By Kevin Boneske
ASHWAUBENON – Approximately 40 people present for a public forum Wednesday, Sept. 18, in the Performing Arts Center received updated cost estimates related to possible referendum questions the district could hold next April.
This was the second forum held for district residents to have the opportunity to ask questions and provide input about the projects now estimated at around $20 million being considered by the school board.
Along with the district obtaining updated project designs and cost estimates following the initial public forum in May, Superintendent Kurt Weyers said one project previously under consideration, moving the district office to the high school, will not be included in a referendum question.
Weyers said the cost to relocate the district office from its current location in a separate building on Griffiths Lane to the former high school commons area is now estimated at $1.5 million.
“Right now, we feel it’s not justified at that cost…,” he said. “We feel that there’s more things we could do for our kids, versus spending that money to move the district office.”
After a new high school commons was completed last year in the area of the former swimming pool, the site of the old commons was proposed for remodeling to relocate the district office.
When asked what might be done with the area where the commons was located, Weyers said a couple ideas are being considered, such as creating a learning space for high school students or a professional development area for staff.
“I think right now we’re making a conscious decision to say, ‘We’re staying where we are (in the current district office) for the foreseeable future.’” he said.
Weyers said no decision has been made yet as to what will be in a referendum, which will be based on feedback from district residents who will be able to express their opinions in the survey being sent out next month.
Keith Lucius, business director for Ashwaubenon schools, said most of the buildings in the district are now more than 50 years old and in need of upgrades that wouldn’t fit in the current operating budget.
“That’s where the whole idea of a referendum started,” he said. “Those projects are just too big to work into our operating budget.”
The projects proposed to the district’s current facilities and their estimated costs include:
• Improving school security and safety at Cormier and Pioneer Elementary School ($2.8 million).
• Adding air conditioning throughout the high school, Pioneer and Valley View Elementary School ($4.35 million).
• Updating district facilities ($2.9 million) to repair the track, abate asbestos, repair the Pioneer gym foundation, replace three gym floors, replace lighting in the gyms and the Parkview Middle School library, and replace windows and doors at Parkview.
Lucius said those projects, known as the base plan, now have an estimated total cost of $10.14 million.
The expected impact on the district’s property rate as part of a capital referendum would be 10 cents per $1,000 of equalized value, or $10 annually on a $100,000 home.
“How is that possible? It doesn’t make sense,” Lucius said. “The way it’s possible is we have the debt from our previous referendum (paid off), so we’re able to place this, put this debt in place of that. So, I want to be honest upfront. If we don’t pass the referendum, our mill rate’s going to go down, because that debt now is off the books and we don’t have to levy for it.”
A new project being proposed at the high school that would double the capital referendum amount is a multi-purpose indoor facility with a turf field, which Lucius said is now estimated to cost $10.8 million, based on being built with a total of 44,000 square feet of space.
He said the price has increased more than $1 million from the previous estimate of $9.7 million because the project, which would be located next to the Performing Arts Center and involve extending the parking lot closer to South Ridge Road, would also require an underground water retention pond.
He said the multi-use facility would add 60 cents per $1,000 to the mill rate, or $60 annually on a $100,000 home.
Lucius said a question about the multi-use facility, which would have a 60-foot ceiling and could be used year-round for a variety of activities, will be included in the district survey to determine whether to include the project in a referendum.
“When you get your surveys in October, if you like it, tell us,” he said. “If you think we should not do it or hold off on it, tell us. The survey is really the key in determining whether this is included in the referendum.”
Those attending the forum had mixed views on the proposed multi-purpose facility, such as a suggestion the district “pass the hat” for donations instead of including the project in a referendum.
In addition to a referendum for building projects, an operational referendum is also being proposed to exceed the district revenue limit by $730,000 annually.
Director of Pupil Services Tammy Nicholson said $650,000 of that amount would be for increasing mental health and support services.
“We’d look at increasing guidance counselors, social workers, behavioral coaches and different support groups for our kids, because we know that kids need help, and we want to provide those support services,” she said.
Nicholson said early mental health support can help a child before problems interfere with other developmental needs.
Lucius said the other $80,000 in the operational referendum would go toward paying to operate the additional air conditioning that would be part of the capital referendum.
He noted the school district is allowed under state law to only hold two referendum questions in a year.
In the event only one of the two possible referendum questions would pass, Lucius said he would expect the board wouldn’t go ahead with adding the air conditioning.
With the survey results due back in late October, the board plans to review those results at its November meeting and could decide in November or December whether to hold a referendum or referendums next April.