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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Peshtigo School Board Looking Closer At Remodeling Options

In the past three years, voters of Peshtigo School District have rejected three attempts to approve funding for construction of a new high school/middle school. As a result the school board is now looking a bit harder at remodeling, expanding and renovating the existing building.

The latest remodeling ideas were explained by representatives of Hoffman consulting group at a special public information meeting of the school board held Wednesday, Sept. 21 in the band room of the Elementary Learning Center. In addition to the school board about 25 members of the staff and general public were on hand.

They were given an overview of a remodeled and expansion of the existing school might look like, how it could be done with minimal disruption of classes, and what it would be likely to cost.

At the start of the meeting, Administrator Kim Eparvier told the group that subsequent to the April referendum defeat, Hoffman people had been studying options, with an eye particularly to finding ways to remodel and expand the present school with minimal disruption of classes. He said they had done this with no charges whatever to the district.

Hoffman group has been facilities consultant for the school district since construction of the elementary learning center additions in 2000, and worked with the School Board and citizen ad hoc groups through each of the referendum attempts.

The last referendum, in April of this year, would have allowed borrowing $33.9 million for a new school, complete with a 500-seat auditorium, on a 37-acre property the district had purchased across Trout Creek from the existing high school/middle school and adjoining Peshtigo Elementary Learning Center campus. That location would have allowed continued use of existing athletic fields, and keep all facilities consolidated at a single location. Had the referendum passed, the plan was to sell the existing building if possible, and tear it down if there were no buyers within a specific time frame.

The referendum that failed in November of 2015 would have allowed borrowing up to $32 million to build basically the same school but on a site in the city's Industrial Park.

Prior to the failed referendums, an Ad Hoc Committee made up of community members as well as members of the School Board and school staff had taken a cursory look at the remodeling options, but on advice of Hoffman consultants determined that there were too many site problems and cost would be about equal to that of an entirely new school. Eparvier had said at the time that just getting detailed remodeling plans drawn would cost about $300,000.

At the start of Wednesday's meeting, Eparvier said that at meetings after the April 5 defeat it became apparent that the general public wanted more specificity on the concept of remodeling. He said Hoffman people began working on some ideas, at no charge to the school district, and he and others in the administration have been meeting with them for the last several months. "At this point there are no conclusions by the board or the administration," Eparvier declared.

He then introduced the Hoffman team to explain their proposals.

Hoffman planner Mark Boehlke said for the last several months he and others at Hoffman had been looking in more depth at options for reuse of the existing Middle School/High School and had collected a lot of information. "We'd like to continue to work with you," he offered.

Robert Caylor, a project architect with Hoffman, said he would mainly address technical building code and site requirements.

Matt McGregor, a project manager with Hoffman, said they have been looking at the value of what they could accomplish with remodeling versus what it would cost as compared to a new building.

"I hope we can provide enough information to move forward together, Hoffman senior designer Catharine Cruickshank told the group. She said goals of this meeting would be to discuss potential renovations and additions to the existing building, review prior ad hoc committee activity, look at site location and boundaries, view conceptual building and site layouts with phasing, look at code issues, discuss preliminary budget estimates and schedules, and consider the next steps.

She said starting back in 2012 the Ad Hoc Committee had looked at basically three options:

Option one, preserve and maintain the existing facility with no additions or renovations - which was not being explored because it does not address need to accommodate larger classes or shortcomings of educational and other space;

Option 2, Preserve and maintain the existing facility with additions and renovations - which would require investigating storm water requirements and talking to the six property owners had been unwilling to sell to see if steps could be taken to get them to reconsider their decision.

"Forcing people out of their homes is not a good way to start a referendum," she commented. A member of the public pointed out that at least one of the properties is now for sale, and that started a discussion on what it would cost to demolish the home there and the possibility that it contains asbestos.

A fourth option, which would have been to demolish the existing building and put up a new one on the same site or one immediately to the south was not even really an option, and was not explored due to cost, site restrictions, class disruption, lack of green space and more, Cruickshank said

Option three, the option preferred by the board and the Ad Hoc committee, was to find suitable land near or adjacent to the existing school site. The school board had done this, and subsequently purchased the 37-acre Zak/Gard properties, "but unfortunately that solution was rejected by the voters," Cruickshank commented. She felt one reason voters rejected that option was a persisting feeling that reuse of the existing school building had not been fully explored.

She said with those concerns in mind she had begun playing with some ideas for expanding and renovating the building on its existing site without purchasing any properties from unwilling sellers, and with minimal disruption for classes.

She had come up with plans she felt would work, and unveiled them for the group, along with a list of questions that remain to be answered.

She said for her plan to work the city would need to abandon Green Street and relocate any utilities it includes. Ownership of some Historical Museum and Cemetery property would need to be transferred to the School District, she said. The school is already using the property that she identified but does not hold title to it.

Alderman Tom Gryzwa, the only city official present for the meeting, felt the city would be interested. He said the city owns the museum property, not the Historical Society. There might need to be some variances to zoning code for setbacks from streets, and handling storm water might be a problem.

Eventually everyone present appeared to informally agree that a next step should be a meeting of school representatives with the City Council, perhaps as a committee of the whole.

There also will need to be discussions with EPA and DNR people with regard to wetlands, flood plain and shoreland zoning requirements due to the proximity of Trout Creek.

She said as to lack of "green space," the school has green space now, "it's just not located right next to the building."

Hoffman Project Architect Robert Caylor explained they are dealing with a building constructed in segments in 1938, 1959, 1965 and 1983. In the 1936 area some classrooms are quite small and do not meet federal accessibility issues. As long as they are left alone, they can be used, but if there is remodeling they must be brought up to today's standards. Since part of the building encroaches on the flood plain, it is possible the entire building could come under flood plain regulations, Caylor said.

The technical education shops are out of date in terms of equipment in general and air handling equipment. The art area has no windows and the multi purpose room is overcrowded at lunch.

In some areas, if they start reconfiguring space or changing windows and doors they could trigger a need to comply with other rules. Stairwells need to be enclosed and hand rails would need to be replaced because the requirements have changed. There must be 1-hour fire walls or a sprinkler system installed in the entire building. There can no longer be dead end corridors without exits.

The mechanical ventilation system equipment would most likely need to be replaced.

He said if they can keep from disrupting over 50 percent of the building they would not trigger level three requirements, "so if we can stay under 50 percent, that's a good thing."

Cruickshank presented some concept drawings on renovations and remodeling that could be done in phases.

She said the first question she asked herself was whether or not they could do anything with the building that would make sense, and the next was how they could do the remodeling with school in session. She planned the work in segments, and suggested relocating various classes to keep them going while remodeling and renovating is in progress.

She proposed a second story addition with the properly sized science rooms and adding a greenhouse at the end of the dead end corridor to eliminate that problem, and an elevator to address handicapped access issues.

The four science rooms would be remodeled into three classrooms, with a corridor to the outside through part of the art room.

Eventually, when everything else was done and classes relocated, they would deconstruct the 1936 building to build a three station gym with locker rooms, restrooms for the public, storage areas, etc. That would include adding one more classroom plus a health room and phy ed area.

She said the existing gym area then could be converted into a multi-purpose room with a performing arts area where a stage at one end would provide for drama, band and choir performances. The area also would still include a full size basketball court, although there would be no room for bleachers or concessions, but people who wanted to watch could sit on the stage. Off stage there would be space for storage of props and costumes plus makeup rooms.

Plans were suggested to expand the existing cafeteria into the current cardio weight room, and have tiered seating in the new multi-purpose room. The kitchen would be completely renovated, and the existing band area could be converted into additional classrooms and a teacher's lounge.

Once done, they would have 22 classrooms, all more than 800 square feet, plus five special education classrooms, the multi purpose room and a new and larger gym.

"We think phasing ll in is the proper sequence to avoid having to use temporary classrooms and is doable," Cruickshank declared.

"We were pleasantly surprised to find out that the layout of the school makes sense. The cafeteria will be a little farther from the gym than we would like,"but it is what it is."

There was discussion on need for firewalls to separate sections of the building, and on outside walls wherever the building comes within 10 feet of the property line. "Even though the property on one side is a creek, the fire wall is required," Caylor said.

Parking was addressed, and may require use of the present tennis court area.

As to costs, Cruickshank had separated the renovation into several "buckets," the first being the three large additions, and had estimated prices based on similar projects in other schools. She estimated $14.6 to $16.6 million.

The second "bucket," tallying about $9.5 to $10.8 million, includes a lot of pieces, like fire alarms, sprinkler system, new ceilings throughout, and asbestos removal.

She said they had tried to salvage and reuse existing equipment and furnishings as much as possible, for example the existing lockers, which re relatively new.

The last pot of money is for the site, where there are a lot of unknowns related to soil conditions beneath the surface, relocation of utilities, new parking areas, etc.

Overall, Cruickshank estimated the total cost of the projects she had outlined at $25,7 to $29.3 million to bring the existing high school/middle school up to a newer level.

She explained where each set of classes would be relocated during various phases of the remodeling, which she expects to take 24 months all together. She expected deconstruction of the old building to be done in summer because of disruption from noise and dust.

A question from the audience was how many students the renovated building would be able to handle, and Cruickshank said they were not really looking at expanding the number of students, but at bringing teaching areas up to where they should be.

"If this district would grow and we need to add six or eight classrooms, where would we go" asked School Board President Gary Larsen.

"I would say you're done," Cruickshank replied. There was a suggestion to provide for adding a third story atop the new 2-story section, but Cruickshank said that entails more costly footings.

The parking area would accommodate two fewer COLS unless the tennis court area is used, which would add space for about 100 cars. There is a two-way drive around the entire building, which helps with traffic flow and is a fire lane.

To questions about cost of removing and disposing of possible asbestos in the old building, Cruickshank said whether they were demolishing it after building an entirely new building on the Zak/Gard site or to make room for a renovated addition, whatever asbestos is there will need to be dealt with.

There was a question regarding flat versus slanted roof, and the architect said on large buildings the flat roofs actually last longer unless they go with a metal roof.

Gryzwa recalled the the 1983 addition corrected the foundation problems by driving pylons, so that issue should be okay.

Asked why the district does not buy the "for sale" house right now, Eparvier said it would make no sense unless they have answers from the city regarding Green Street.

Chief Deputy Jared Phillips, of the city police department, said his concern right now is traffic, "Where will it go and where will everybody cross?" He was told the architects will meet with police, fire and city engineering representatives to look at all these things.

Asked why they couldn't get a proposed floor plan when they went to referendum for the new building, but do have one for the proposed remodel, Cruickshank said they never do design detail before referendum is proposed, but for a remodel they have to do it, at least to some extent.

"The taxpayers don't want generalizations when they're spending $34 million," one member of the audience commented.

There was discussion about the $34 million being the maximum state law would allow the district to borrow. Cruickshank said they did not put the price estimate on how much the district could borrow, "It was based on needs." She said originally they were at $40 million and had to take some things out to stay within the borrowing limits. "We all want a little bit more than we can afford and we have to bring it down," Cruickshank commented. She said they typically start with a wish list and then pare it down to a needs list.

"Our kids deserve more!" declared an upset lady in the audience. She asked if they could get more information and then go for another referendum. Eparvier said a number of firms have offered to help the district send out surveys to find out what the community is willing to accept.

Another speaker commented if it will cost $26 million to remodel they should build new for $34 million.

"We wanted a Cadillac school and settled for a Nissan," one commented. "Now I'm buying a used car!"

"Eparvier urged everyone to reply if the district does send out a survey questionnaire.

Larsen said at the start a lot of people felt they could remodel for $5 pt $6 million.

There was some comment about the low turnout for the meeting - only about 35 people including public, staff members, board members and school administration.

Cruickshank's data showed the proposed remodel will start with 20 classrooms, some of them undersized, and end with 22 of proper size. There will be five science rooms at the start and at the end, but again the new rooms will be larger and up to date. Technical Education currently has one classroom and in the end will have two, which it formerly had but it got eliminated.

If the remodel goes forward, plans call for right sized classrooms and science labs, a new 3-station gym, a multipurpose room with stage and basketball court, larger wrestling and cardio/weight rooms, a larger cafeteria and an appropriate music suite.

There also will be wider stairways with proper hand rails, sprinkler and fire alarms through the entire building complete HVAC replacement which will correct existing heating and cooling problems, updated interior lighting, ceiling replacement, renovated kitchen, and windows added in some areas.

As the meeting drew to a close someone wondered when anything more will happen. Gryzwa felt the next step would be the joint meeting with the city council. Eparvier felt they would want to better educate the public on the cost of adding and renovating versus the cost of building new.

"We won't be voting on anything this November," Larsen declared.

Eparvier thanked everyone for attending, and expressed "a huge thank you" to the Hoffman Corp. "They did all this work on their own time. It has not cost the district one dime," he declared.


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