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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Peshtigo School Board Views Tentative New Building Plans

Issue Date: November 22, 2016

It appears that Peshtigo School Board is posed to once again ask voters to approve financing for a new high school/middle school, possibly at a referendum in April. Voters rejected referendum attempts at the polls three times in the past three years. This time, because of some new financing options the tax impact would be less, even though building cost would remain nearly the same if the option for an entirely new facility is once again the board's choice.

If there is to be a referendum in April for either remodeling or building new, the board would need to adopt the enabling resolution no later than Jan. 21. The issue is expected to be on the agenda for discussion and possibly for action at the board meeting in December.

According to tentative plans displayed at a special board meeting on Monday, Nov. 21, the price of a new building remains nearly the same as it was for the last referendum, approximately $32,050,000 or $33,580,000, depending on the gym option chosen. However, the referendum tax impact would be about $100 a year less on a $100,000 property, thanks to some innovative financing worked out by District Administrator Kim Eparvier.

Cost of remodeling and expanding the existing building is estimated at $25,788,488 to $29,317,439.

At the Nov. 21 meeting the board viewed tentative floor plans for a new building drawn by Hoffman designers, the firm that designed the Elementary Learning Center and has been working with them for years on the possibilities of remodeling the existing high school building or constructing an entirely new one.

Hoffman Senior Designers Catharine Cruickshank and Robert Koehler were on hand to explain the designs and field questions from the board.

Plans for remodeling and expanding the existing building in phases over a 3-year period had been unveiled at an Ad Hoc Committee meeting in September. That option carries an estimated price tag between $2.5 and $3 million.

The remodeling design plans were well received, but remodeling and expansion brings with it problems like lack of parking spaces, noise that could disrupt classes while work is in progress, and limited area with no room for future expansion should that become necessary.

Expansion would require the city to vacate Green Street. City Council has been asked to decide if they are willing to do that if the remodel/renovate option is chosen, and is scheduled to consider the request at its meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 6. In fact, a portion of either the existing building or an existing fence and parking area already encroaches on the adjoining city owned right of way. It appears a survey would be required to determine the exact property lines. There was talk that if the street is abandoned only half could go to the school and the other half would revert to property owners on that side of the street.

Cruickshank told the board at Monday's meeting that a major complaint at the last referendum had been lack of plans for the proposed new building. While a full design would entail work and expense that she felt would be unwarranted unless a referendum had been approved, they had drawn up proposed floor plans for a new building that could be built at moderate cost and would meet all the district's needs. The plans included two options for the gym, one with four stations and one with three. Both plans also include a multi purpose room that could also be used as a gym or an area for stage and musical performances, and an interior courtyard that would border a commons area large enough to accommodate a single lunch period for the entire high school student body.

While discussing the remodeling options at the start of the meeting, Cruickshank said the proposed renovated school would be no more of an encroachment on city property than the existing facility has been for the past 50 years or so.

However, she said if the new or remodeled portions of the building are not at least five feet from the property line there can be no openings in the wall on that side. That includes windows and doors, and would leave the question of how to evacuate students in case of an emergency. She said there needs to be space around the entire building for a driveway to allow for emergency vehicles. She said the remodel/expansions resulted in a plan that "turned out fairly well, considering what we were working with."

An informational booklet with sets of floor plans for the proposed renovation and the possible new building, along with price comparisons, were handed out at the start of the meeting.

From the start Board President Gary Larsen raised objections to the proposed remodeling, starting with concern over lack of parking spaces. He said he counted only about 105 parking spaces, and said for tournaments and other events they need about 400 spots. There currently are 144 parking spots around the school. He asked about a parking ramp, and was told that would be prohibitively expensive.

There was a suggestion from Board member Tom Fischer that they look into buying privately owned properties across the street from the existing building for parking and possible expansion, but that brought objections that the owners may not want to sell.

Cruickshank said she had recently visited the property the school purchased last year as a site for the proposed new building, and found it "absolutely gorgeous." She said there is an existing looped drive all the way around it that would be perfect, and there are great opportunities there for kids to do nature walks, prairie and wetland studies, etc. That property, known as the Zak/Gard property, adjoins the existing Elementary Learning Center campus on the west and both meet the southern edge of Badger Park.

She said in planning the layout she tried to make it "a very efficient, tight design," to minimize operating and construction costs, but provide for future expansion should that become necessary.

Cruickshank said the design allows for separation of high school and middle school classrooms, and with the open courtyard area almost every classroom will have windows to the outdoors. She said windows are no longer considered a problem for energy use, and declared the lack of windows makes some rooms in the existing school feel "cave like."

Special needs classrooms border on the courtyard, which means students can be allowed outside to play while being securely protected within the walls of the enclosure.

The plans also provide for a greenhouse, which would most likely be moved to the new location from the existing building. "Whatever we can reuse we will reuse," she said, adding this includes the existing lockers.

The classroom area of the proposed new building would be two-story, while the gym and multi-purpose room area would be single story.

To concerns expressed by Board member Julie Muenster over lack of a space for the performing arts, Cruickshank explained how chairs and bleachers could be used for seating, and said a stage area is included. She said new and better design and materials can vastly improve the acoustics. Locker rooms are close enough to the gym and multi purpose area to be used as costume changing rooms for stage performances.

There also is space for adult locker rooms, costume and sports equipment storage, and more.

Board member Bob Thomas asked how the proposed new building and the remodeled old one compare in terms of space.

Cruickshank said the new building would be bigger than the existing one, but smaller than the existing one would be after the proposed expansion. However, being better designed means it would offer all the space needed. There would be 15 classrooms plus a shop area, music area, and five science labs of 1,400 feet each. The commons and kitchen area would be much larger in the new building than in the remodeled old one.

The expanded old building would have 168,760 square feet, while the proposed new one would have either 148,000 or 156,500 square feet, depending on which size gym they decided to build.

The tentative plans call for 144 parking spaces around the new building, the same number that exist at the old one, but there is room to add parking in future if necessary, including widening the perimeter road to park approximately 70 vehicles on it.

If the decision were to build the new school the board would have to try to sell the old building, of if that fails, they would need deconstruct it, at a cost of perhaps $1 million. She said when deconstructing they make every effort to recycle and reuse to keep costs down.

Larsen declared the biggest drawback to remodeling is that they would face three years of having classes disrupted by remodeling.

Cruickshank agreed that would be a problem, and added that parking would be even more of a problem during construction because they would need staging areas for materials and equipment around the building.

There were concerns about being able to do it for the price estimate. Cruickshank said the less an estimator knows the higher the estimate is likely to be, because "the last thing anybody wants ts to estimate a price and then not be able to do it for that."

Thomas asked if they could do a price estimate of the difference in operating costs for the new building versus the remodeled old one. Cruickshank said they could do that if provided with current utility bills. Eparvier said he had been told the remodel/expansion would not increase operating costs of the old building.

Thomas felt a new climate controlled building would be more conducive to learning, and a better traffic flow could reduce time periods between classes. He recalled doing a study for a former employer where they found that adding an easily accessible restroom saved $8,000 in man-hours each year, and the new restroom cost $8,000 as a one-time expenditure.

Eparvier said the last referendum had provided for financing the construction over 26 years. He had since ascertained that "Fund 46" dollars can be used for new construction as well as for maintenance. With the help of Brian Brewer of financial consultants Robert W. Baird Associates he had worked out a payment schedule that uses the fund balance plus Fund 46 allocations to cut the added tax impact. That would bring the added tax for the remodeling option to $1.22 per $1,000 of equalized value, resulting in an increase of $122 a year on the tax on a $100,000 property, compared with $211 a year the last time around.

If the choice is to build new, the cost would be $159 a year on a $100,000 home for the 3-station gym option and $172 for the 4-station gym. This compares to $2.11 added tax per $1,000 in the last referendum, which would have equated to $211 a year on a $100,000 property. He said this results in an 18,5 percent tax break as compared ot the referendum they ran last April, with the estimated cost of $3.9 million for a new building.

"The district is in such sound fiscal shape that we could make the promises for 27 years out," Eparvier declared. He said the expenses can be allocated so that state aid pays half the bill for either new or remodeling. Last year they were able to put $477,000 into Fund 46, and this year they budgeted $250,000 for that account.

He said the number of students coming in through Open Enrollment brings in the extra income that makes the fund 46 contributions possible.

Eparvier said all their figures are based on getting a referendum passed in April, and by state law the board would need to approve the resolution authorizing it by Jan. 21.

Fischer said the board needs to keep looking at the possibility of acquiring Green Street and remodeling the existing building, "because that's what they (the public) asked us to do."

Board member Jenni Schwittay agreed, and also asked about going ahead with a citizen survey to find out what the taxpayers want them to do. She was concerned that if they come back again with a referendum for a new school the public will say, "you're not listening, and accuse us of trying to ram it down their throats."

Eparvier asked how board members would respond if a community survey came out in favor of remodeling, but in their best judgment as board members they felt that was not the best answer, "Would you be willing to approve a resolution that was opposed to your personal views?"

Steve Coble declared as a 20-year board member, "it does not make sense to fix that building...I will NOT support a renovation of that building!"

"The people elected us....We're the gate keepers," Larsen commented.

Schwittay said if the voters see $33 million again for a new building they might vote it down again, and Larsen said the last time around there were no floor plans, "and now we have them."

"Hopefully we'll hit a wall with the property lines and find out we can't add on to the old building," Board member Julie Muenster remarked.

Cruickshank suggested they could bid out with options for the 3-station and 4-station gyms, and then go with whichever option seemed most beneficial, provided the voters would approve the referendum. Some board members felt they should just go with the large gym.

There was discussion on how to engage the public and get their support, how to get them to study the information available.

Again Schwittay argued in favor of a community questionnaire, and again Eparvier commented, "You can do all the questionnaires you want...the ultimate question is, will you support it?"

"The problem is, we all want one thing and the public is telling us no," Schwittay responded. She added if they do the survey, they have to do what it tells them.

Eparvier felt they need to get community leaders involved, and Cruickshank suggested they also need to get teachers engaged, get their input and their support.

Cruickshank said they also need to assure the public this is not extravagant. There is no swimming pool, and no new football stadium. She said there are compromises. There is not an auditorium, but there is space where performances can be held, with better acoustics than are currently available.

"Budgetarily we did things to reduce the tax impact," Eparvier said.

The meeting adjourned after board members agreed to discuss the matter again in December. Whether or not there will be action scheduled for that meeting was not decided.


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