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Whitewater school board views referendum facilities process

The Whitewater Unified School District (WUSD) School Board on Monday took further steps forward in its post-referendum facilities upgrade process.

In November, voters approved as $23.5 million capital referendum to improve district school buildings.

First, the board heard an update on the schematic designs and budget aspects from representatives of the district’s consultants on the building improvement process, Eppstein Uhen Architects (EUA) and J.P. Cullen. Speaking were Teresa Wadzinski and Andrew Malanowski of EUA and Neal Day of J.P. Cullen.

The consultants reviewed the draft architectural designs of the floorplans with the school board for Lakeview, Lincoln and Washington elementary schools, as well as the Whitewater Middle School and Whitewater High School.

After the initial design review, Wadzinski and Malanowski provided board members Google Cardboard virtual reality viewers in order to help them visualize the designs in a 3-D manner. In short, Google Cardboard is a viewing-box in which a cell phone can be placed; the phone then links to a website in which, as the viewer turns his or her head, the screen moves to the left or right maintaining the 3-D image. By turning their heads while viewing the image, the board members were given a 360-degree view of what the finished designs would probably look like.

The images also were projected on the normal screen in the board room so residents watching the meeting at home could get a feel for the designs as well, albeit not in 3-D.

District Administrator Dr. Mark Elworthy said prior to the meeting that the WUSD is planning its bidding process to take place in April, with construction starting sometime in early summer.

Lincoln Elementary School and the Whitewater Middle School are planned to be among the first projects, with the goal being specific areas upgrade by the start of school next Fall.

In Lincoln, the goal is to have some classrooms and the main office refurbished. For the middle school, the goal is to have completed renovations in the main office area, the fine arts classroom, the locker rooms, and have the bathrooms in compliance with ADA requirements.

During the 2017-18 school year, renovations at Lincoln will continue, primarily construction of a new gym. Elworthy added that most staff will remain at the building during this time.

Additionally, there will be some upgrades at the high school during the same period.

In the summer of 2018, more upgrades will continue at the high school, but renovations also will start at Lakeview and Washington elementary schools.

Currently, the projects cost about $600,000 over the referendum amount, but the referendum estimates included more than $1 million in contingencies, Day reported. There still are two more estimate processes to complete, with the next revised estimate expected in three to four weeks.

Second, the board officially approved the sale of $23.5 million in general obligation bonds. The bonds are directly related to the capital referendum voters approved in November for the upgrades and improvements to all of the district’s facilities; in short, it’s how the district is financing the refurbishment of the district’s school buildings.

Working with its bond consultant at the firm Baird and Company, the board was informed that there were a total of nine bidders, and UBS Financial Services had the lowest rate of 3.266 percent The WUSD had AA3 rating from Moody’s, which is the same rating for the City of Whitewater.

District business director Nathan Jaeger said that pre-referendum estimate was that there would be an 18-cent impact on taxpayers should the referendum pass. With the 3.266-percent interest rate, Jaeger said, there was a likelihood of that figure dropping to 16 cents when other, non-capital-referendum related debt is paid off within a few years.

Jaeger commented on the sale afterward.

“The original projection rate was about 3.7 percent, and the rate came in considerably lower than that,” he said. “This will be good thing for the district as it will result in a lower tax impact.”

Finally, the board heard Jaeger make brief presentations on community-based focus groups and the Citizens Financial Advisory Committee (CFAC). The two bodies usually are used in the WUSD’s annual budget development process.

He noted that “these valuable stakeholders” have served different needs through various budget cycles over the years.

Regarding the focus groups, this year the district selected individuals with special areas of expertise to garner feedback. Jaeger noted in previous years, the district has had a general call for volunteers or used resident surveys to gather feedback.

This year, the focus groups were broken down into three specific areas: finances and operations, curriculum and instruction, and employee relations. Jaeger said that this year’s focus groups were “still in progress” in determining short- and long-term goals for the district.

Jaeger also shared that the CFAC already is looking at the potential impact of the 2017-19 state biennium budget will have on the district, though at the moment, there are many unknowns.

Additionally, given the approval of the capital referendum, the CFAC is not making any formal recommendations for this year.

However, it is looking further ahead for long-term planning, specifically taking into account that the current operational-referendum is set to expire in two years.

Jaeger commented on the CFAC’s work.

“That group has served in a different capacity each year, like last year they developed recommendations for the referendum,” he said. “That was not necessary this year, there are some items in the coming years that are certainly on their radar. They will be great help in planning those items.”

Chris Welch
Daily Union

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