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Master planning forum demonstrates growth and needs

The Lake Mills Area School District Master Planning Community Forum, May 2, brought a good-sized crowd to Lake Mills High School ready to hear the latest feedback the District has received about the future.

The District’s mission statement, “Preparing All of Today’s Students for Tomorrow’s Opportunities” has fueled many studies that points to growth in the district.

The evening focused on critical needs at the high school. Phase one, Eppstein Uhen Architects Project Manager Teresa Wadzinski said, needs to pass so they can meet the immediate space needs.

There is also a potential phase two of the project which adds a new school to the district that may enroll students age 4k through first grade. Once completed, the fifth grade would move back to the elementary school and alleviate any crowding. This would be a future referendum which would reflect the updated enrollment numbers at the time of the project.

Phase three would address more needs at the high school and could address the future needs of up to 750 students.

Lake Mills Area School District Superintendent Pam Streich spoke at the meeting and gave a timeline of improvements made in the district, including remodeling the Lake Mills Middle School and building the Lake Mills Elementary School, which are both designated as LEED platinum schools. Both projects came in under budget and on time.

In 2015, she said the District spent about $1 million on projects they were completing from the facilities study by EUA and added auditorium parking, a storage shed, renovated restrooms, and HVAC (Heating Venting and Air Conditioning) to name a few changes.

Streich said in 2016, the original boiler was replaced at the high school.

“At that time, and the main gym became air conditioned,” she said. “It was a milestone for the high school.”

She hopes that people see the care that goes into the buildings, which led the District to its next steps.

She said the building was an original BreyDesign and the entrance had an interesting journey.

“They ran out of money when constructing the original building and weren’t able to do the designed entrance,” Streich said. “They were able to go back to the original plans from the 1960’s and add the entrance that was in the original design.”

Some of the High School work isn’t exciting to the students, she said, but behind the scenes is pretty amazing.

“When they took out the 1960’s boiler along with a giant mechanical system and replaced the system with a state of the art small computerized system.”

Eppstein Uhen Architects Project Manager Teresa Wadzinski spoke about the District’s high school capacity study and said it’s more than looking at the bones and the structure.

“It’s looking at the teaching spaces and how teachers are able to use those spaces,” she said.

Lake Mills High School sits at 431 students enrolled in the current 2017-18 school year, she said, and the calculated capacity is 469 students.

She said the utilization rate for each classroom was calculated (how the space is used) and if two or three students are sitting in an area for one or more hour per day, the space is under-utilized.

“That same classroom may have 40 students crammed into it, and that is over-utilized,” she said.

Wadzinski said they also met with the administration to determine the educational adequacy and get comments about the teaching spaces.

“There were comments about some spaces being under-utilized and some spaces being over-utilized,” she said.

Collaboration spaces that are present at the middle and elementary schools, she said, do not exist at the high school.

“It’s really missing that 21st century learning component,” she said. “There were comments about the kitchen and the cafeteria and also about the lack of office space.”

One example she noted was a private space for the school psychologist, she said, where students can go, feel comfortable and not feel like people are watching them enter her office.

“It’s having enough of those offices throughout the building,” she said.

The Board’s Facility Committee asked if the investment is worth spending the money on it, if the location is good and what the needs are going to be moving forward.

“That’s where we put the pause on and we needed to conduct an enrollment study,” she said.

The study, completed by Mark Roffers of MD Roffers Consulting, examined housing trends, she said, and developers are looking 10 years out.

“He spoke to every developer, he spoke to the city, he spoke to the county, he spoke to the townships as well as how is the housing used in this community,” she said.

Streich told the attendees that Lake Mills is a moderately growing community and the high school will be over capacity in the 2020-2021 school year, the middle school will be over capacity in 2022-2023, and the elementary school is projected to be over capacity in 2024-2025.

She said most of the surrounding school districts are experiencing declining enrollment.

“For us, to know there is going to be moderate growth is going to be very important,” she said.

Streich pointed out the district “seriously won’t have enough room” for all the students at the high school.

She said that the size of the elementary school was intentional when built.

They (the School Board) felt that if there were over 600 students that’s too big for an elementary school and they told people while they were doing the referendum that this wasn’t the end game and there would be more to come.

She said the District needed to use the neighborhood projections about where the school should be and, based on the study, the best place for a high school is south, or east, of Lake Mills.

She noted that Lake Mills High School is in the right spot. “It will continue to be a centralized location in Lake Mills,” she said. “the current high school site has the capacity to handle these additions.”

She said there are more strategies than building to deal with the capacity issue.

“Another strategy is to reconfigure grade levels and a third is to make programmatic changes,” Streich said.

She pointed out that 431 students eat lunch at the same time in the same space at the high school.

“One way that we can work on that is to change our schedule,” she said. “That would be very difficult because we have a block schedule and we see so many benefits to our schedule right now.”

One question Streich hears a lot, she said, is why not build a new high school that holds up to 750 students?

“To build a high school of that size in today’s dollars would cost $86 million,” she said. “That exceeds our borrowing capacity.”

This story will continue on May 17.

Chris Frost
Lake Mills Leader

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