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November referendum? School District Looks at Facility Needs

LAKE MILLS -- Officials in the Lake Mills Area School District want community input on a three phase facilities plan and possible referendum in November. The school district held its first master planning community forum on Tuesday.

Lake Mills High School, originally built in 1962, with additions in 1964, 1975, 1988, 2001 and 2005 is one of the main focuses of the plan to address its functional capacity. Currently the school has an enrollment of 431 students. The functional capacity is 469 students.

"All of your voices are very important to us," said Pam Streich, district administrator. "You are our partners in education. We believe that as a school district we are educating our students but the whole community has a role in educating our students."

The discussion of this project has been going on since a facilities study was done in 2015.

"We want to be responsible stewards of the resources we have. We don't take anything for granted in terms of the resources the community has provided for us," Streich said.

The district has made improvements at the middle school in 2010, high school in 2011, new elementary school in 2014, high school improvements in 2015 and 2016.

"The district has done a good job continuously investing in all the schools," said Greg Douglas vice president of construction innovation at Miron Construction.

Streich looked at the capacity of the educational spaces in 2015 when she was principal of the high school. The study found the family and consumer sciences, technical education and agricultural spaces are under utilized. Some core academic spaces are nearing capacity and located ineffectively the study said.

The nonacademic spaces such as the cafeteria and gym are the right size for the current population of students but the spaces will be too small for future projected enrollment. The learning environments at the new elementary school and renovated middle school provide flexible learning spaces and areas where students can collaborate. Those spaces don't exist at the high school. There is also a need for more office space currently and in the future.

"When we started talking about doing an addition we asked, 'Is this building worth investing in?' Where are the kids going to be," Streich said.

Eppstein Uhen Architects introduced the district to a company that does a study not based on birth rate.

"He specializes in talking to all the developers, the city, the town. He canvasses all the people that know what is going to happen in the area. He does a master plan on what the population changes will be and he went out to 2030," Streich said.

The study says the district will have more students in 2030 than it has now, not factoring in open enrollment.

"Because of our facilities we have capped open enrollment and we don't take many students," she said. "We just don't have the physical room."

The high school is projected to be over capacity in 2020-21. The middle school is projected to be over capacity in 2022-23. The elementary school will be over capacity by 2024-25 school year.

The study is done based on new housing development through 2030 using community and developer plans.

The neighborhood based projections were used to determine a new school would best be located south or east in Lake Mills.

"You don't have to just build a new school to address capacity. You can do to in one of three ways; new or expanded schools, grade group reconfigurations or programmatic changes," Streich said.

The district is proposing a three phase plan starting with an addition at the high school.

"We need to plan now so we can go to referendum to be ready for growth in 2020-21," she said.

Phase one of the plan addresses the capacity issues at the high school.

Phase two of the plan would be a possible 4-year-old kindergarten through grade one primary building to be ready for the 2024-25 school year. That plan would allow the district to move the fifth grade out of the middle school and back to the elementary school to bring the middle school to the proper capacity.

Phase three will take place in the 2027-28 school year the district is proposing a large renovation to the high school. The renovation will bring the school to a capacity of 750 students.

Teresa Wadzinski, project manager at Eppstein Uhen Architects said community members may be wondering why the district would be over capacity when an new elementary school was built in 2014.

"When that building was planned and designed it was very intentional that it would fit 600 students, thinking of the whole child, academically keeping that school that size. We were thinking if it ever needed to be 700 students we would want to build a new school to keep that manageable both academically and for the development of the child," Wadzinski said. "This was always expected to happen."

"We weren't being short sighted. It was purposeful to keep the elementary at 600 kids," Streich said. "The looming question is why not build a new high school?"

The cost of a new school to get to a capacity of 700 students is estimated at $86 million. The district's borrowing capacity based on equalized value is about $98 million.

"We cannot afford $86 million," she said.

"When we looked at building a new elementary school we look at the bones of the school," Wadzinski said. "The bones there were not worth investing in. The bones at the high school are worth investing in."

The school also matches the location of the population study.

The phase one expansion includes general education classroom expansions and relocations, collaboration areas, library media center upgrades, technical education improvements, family and consumer education upgrades, cafeteria upgrades and expansions, athletic space upgrades and expansion and relocation of storage buildings.

"The idea is to add six classrooms at the end of the building off the library and expand past the library to the street," Streich said. "Six new classrooms does not mean six new teachers. What we are really talking about is better spaces and strategically moving programs into those spaces as needed."

The technical education and family and consumer education areas will be expanded and upgraded to give students more learning options.

"Those areas need to be enhanced when you think about our Wisconsin economy," she said.

The cost of phase one including the addition to the high school and reconfiguration of the classrooms will cost $6 to $7 million. Based on a $6.5 million referendum the project will cost 41 cents per $1,000 or $61.50 on a $150,000 home for 20 years.

Phase two of the program including an early learning center would cost $16 to $18 million in 2021 and phase three a complete remodel of the high school in 2028 would cost $25.5 to $28.5 million. The total high school costs in phases one and three would be $31.5 to $35.5 million, based on 2018 costs.

Phase three at the high school would include renovations of the music areas, collaboration media center, additional offices for privacy, art room and cafeteria on the lower level to address capacity, renovation of locker rooms and additional locker rooms in the existing lower level gym, a new three station gym, possible classroom addition to address capacity and moving the weight room closer to the gym with a separate entrance for the public. The new gym space would also close off the rest of the school from the public space during events. There would be a total of four gym spaces at the high school at the end of phase three.

Another option district officials proposed was the possibility of accelerating the gym area at the high school into phase one instead of waiting until phase three. It was explored in response to community members expressing that Lake Mills doesn't have enough gym space. The upper level expansion and renovation would remain the same with the addition of the gym space in the lower level.

The alternative includes the addition of a three station gym, renovated locker rooms, new concessions, new parking lot with athletic entrance, relocation of bus barn, reconfiguring the lower gym into a weight room and support spaces.

Phase three would then include the balance of the cafeteria expansion, classroom expansion and renovation work.

The accelerated gym alternative would cost $14.8 to $16.8 million in phase one. It brings the phase three cost at the high school to $16.5-$18.5 million. The tax impact would be $1.07 per 1,000 or $160.50 on a $150,000 home.

"What we've presented you so far we believe is very fiscally sound," Streich said. "We've looked at the data, we've looked at the building needs, we've looked at the anticipated growth and we really came up with our best, most conservative plan. There is no fluff in here."

Apart from the essential school renovations to address capacity needs the district proposed options for improvements at Campus Field. The options include making needed repairs at the field to the best of ability without major changes, moving the baseball diamonds to Wallace Park and reconstructing the football field and seating areas, adding parking, play areas at the middle school and possibly adding two additional lanes to the high school track. The third option is perhaps the most drastic and includes relocating the baseball and football fields. Baseball would be at Wallace Park and the football field would be constructed at the high school. The space at the middle school, the current Campus Field, would be reclaimed as green space and playground space for the middle school.

Option one would cost between $400,000 to $700,000, option two would cost about $3.5 to $4.3 million and option three would cost $4 to $4.8 million. A $4 million athletic project would cost 23 cents per $1,000 or $34.50 on a $150,000 home.

The district is looking for community input. A community-wide survey will be mailed in May. In June the school board will look at the results of the survey and in the summer it will refine the scope of the work and respond to the survey. In August the school board will decide if they would like to pursue a referendum. If it is approved, the question will appear on the ballot in November.

There will be two additional community forums on April 3 and May 2 from 7 to 9 p.m. in the high school multipurpose room.

Sarah Weihert
Watertown Daily Times

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