Sauk Prairie School District board starts referendum process

By: 
Autumn Luedke

A project board, on display during a special school board meeting to discuss the district’s proposed referendum, shows a detailed map of the additions the district would like to see happen. Photo by Autumn Luedke

The Sauk Prairie School Board will be facing a $65 million decision January 20, 2020, on whether or not to bring an official referendum in the hands of voting residents.

During a special meeting of the Sauk Prairie School Board Dec. 16, the five board members present voted to approve the drafting of a referendum question by the law firm Quarles & Brady, LLP, and approved the district administration’s request to hold a special meeting Jan. 20, 2020, focusing on a referendum vote.

While this does not mean a referendum is set in stone, it does allow the district to assert its intentions to move forward with a referendum. The January meeting sets a pace for the district to be prepared to include the referendum question on the April Spring primary ballot.

Ultimately the decision is up to the seven-member board of education, who can elect to have the question on the April ballot, later on the November ballot, or another yet-to-be-determined date – or not at all.

The $65 million price tag is composed of four main components: high school renovations/expansion, high school athletic field relocation, renovations and expansion to Merrimac Community Charter School and the renovation of the outdoor recreational pool. An optional fifth piece to expand the River Arts Center was discussed at the Dec. 16 meeting as well.

 

Sauk Prairie 

High School/Indoor pool

 

Preliminary estimate: $38.5 million for the school, $12 million rebuild the indoor pool

 

The district’s goal is to modernize the high school, make it safer and to add classrooms in an effort to meet the needs of the community for the next 30-50 years. Plans to accomplish this include safety improvements focusing on a fire control system, improved traffic flow by having one main secure entrance/exit for students combined with a relocation of the high school administrative offices, controlled access for shipping and receiving, air quality improvements and to outfit the building with a separate entrance and zone for community use during school hours.  A 2017 condition report of the high school’s six-land indoor pool conducted by Daryl Matzke of Ramaker and Associates turned up several major concerns during the study, such as problems with an undersized pool surge tank, which regulates water height during heavy pool use and often overflows into the pool equipment room, chlorine leaks, poor air quality in the pool’s natatorium, a floor slope contributing to issues with standing water, and bleachers by the pool deck suffering from major corrosion and cracking issues. The referendum plan is to construct a new aquatic facility with a competitive pool and warm water recreational pool at the northwest end of the high school, with separate access and locker rooms for the community and students.  Under the proposed plan, the current pool would be filled in and the space turned into a fitness center/weight room, allowing the district to relocate the existing fitness space down, and ultimately ADA compliant.

 

Sauk Prairie High School 

athletic field relocation/repair

 

Preliminary estimate: $7.8 million

 

The school district’s plan for a combined high school/middle school campus redesign is based on recommendations from architects, but the expansion would occur right where the current athletic fields are located. However, relocating the athletic fields closer to the middle school would be better for shared use. Additionally, the current athletic fields - which the district says are vastly overused, fraught with drainage and lighting issues, bleachers on the visitor’s side of the stadium that need a complete replacement, bald spots on the tracks, and other components in need of much repair - should be relocated to allow for a better overall design and upgrade.

Armed with several studies comparing natural turf versus artificial turf, the district is leaning toward artificial turf. Although there is a higher up-front cost to installing artificial turf, artificial turf costs less to maintain over the years and doesn’t compact the way natural turf does. When natural turf compacts, studies show the injury rates for players is much higher. Artificial turf also responds better in inclement weather, which Wisconsin often has. Because of this, artificial turf would provide 7.5 times the amount of use over natural turf over the span of a decade.  

“If we are basically doing everything over, we need to make sure we are putting the stadium in the right place,” Sauk Prairie School District Superintendent Jeff Wright said. “And our argument with this plan … is rebuilding the stadium in its existing spot restricts the expansion of the physical high school in the future. Since we basically have to rebuild the whole thing, lets rebuild it to the south, closer to the middle school, which allows us room for the high school expansion on the northwest end of the campus, where the new pool would go and other athletic facilities. So, if we’re going to fix this, let’s fix it in the right place.”

 

Merrimac Community 

Charter School

 

Preliminary estimate: $5.5 million

 

The steady growth of the school’s student population has been good, but it also means the school is now at capacity. Presently students in 4K attend class separately from the school in the basement of an adjacent church. The renovations and expansion would bring all grades under one roof, include an expansion of the gym, an onsite kitchen (currently student meals are transported over and reheated at the school), and another set of bathrooms, as the school currently only has one set for the entire student body. Classroom space would also be expanded, and the school would get a much-needed parking lot expansion, which would extend to where the school’s community garden now exists. The school wanted to relocate the garden to where there is richer soil regardless of the outcome.

Wright said he challenged the architect to design several plans for the school, one which follows a basic similar footprint to that of Tower Rock Elementary School, and another which takes into account a design aimed at adding space for community use.

“I wanted to know the cost difference between the two projects, so we can say to the Merrimac town board and village; would you have an interest in expanding Merrimac to be a community space and contribute to this project?” Wright said. “Or contribute to this project through private fundraising?”

In a community centered design, a separate entrance would allow for separation between school and community, along with other potential features, such as a possible fitness room.

 

The outdoor recreational pool

 

Preliminary estimate: $1.2 million

 

A study of the community’s outdoor recreational pool and bathhouse completed by Ramaker and Associates in July, 2017, uncovered several items in need of repair – and offered input on potential enhancements. The outdoor pool venue, located adjacent to Grand Avenue Elementary, consists of three pools: a six-lane, 75-foot, L-shaped swimming pool, a separate diving well and a wading pool for small children. The bath house was last renovated when the pools were first constructed in the 1990s. The report concluded although the pools overall appear to be functioning well, there are five main areas of concern that should be addressed: pitting in the basin of the lap pool, creating sharp edges on the pool’s floor, peeling paint on the pools’ basins, requiring a repaint or re-plastering, loose or cracked pool tiles in all three pools along the water line – as well as missing grout, malfunctioning pool skimmers, and standing water on the school deck, necessitating replacement or cleaning of deck drains. In May, 2017, the school district contracted with a company to repaint the pool basins, fix cracked or loose tiles and smooth sharp edges on the bottom of the lap pool. The skimmers and pool deck were not addressed at that time, nor were any repairs done to the bathhouse. Tuck pointing required to repair brick masonry, settlement of the arch in the main entrance, replacement of light fixtures, wall connections on bathroom shower fixtures, ventilation and dehumidification measures are needed in the basement and lifeguard area floor structure. The concession and pool equipment buildings were in good condition and just need to be properly maintained.

Proposed enhancements to the outdoor pool area include more shade features and seating around the wading pool, and updated water features added to the wading pool.

 

River Arts Center expansion

 

Preliminary estimate: $3.4 million, $1.5 already secured with a private donation

 

With events getting turned away because of the venue’s popularity, River Arts Inc. Executive Director Lindsey Giese said she is hoping the school board will consider putting an expansion project to the River Arts Center back into consideration for the proposed referendum. To put the venue’s use into perspective, the center was used 317 days during the 2018-19 school year, for a total of 3,000 hours. In comparison, all 27 fields in the district were used a total of 5,200, according to a 2015 study.

Wright said Giese approached him with the question, “what if the community were able to raise a significant portion of the money in order to fund the RAC addition?”

“I told her, well then we better at least talk about this and make sure we share the information with the board,” Wright said.

The project proposed is a 10,724 square foot addition to the River Arts Center adjacent to Sauk Prairie High School. It would be a multipurpose space used for a variety of events, including a flexible performance space for smaller shows, banquets/receptions, a green room for events with larger groups (i.e. dance recitals), a lecture hall large enough for an entire class body, set building and rehearsal space which would free up the current RAC stage for other events.

Giese said there are no days available for use of the RAC October through December, and March through May.

“I am not here to say the River Arts Center addition is more important than anything on the referendum already,” Giese said. “But I am here to tell you that it’s important and needed. And if there is any way to get it added back in, I think it will be a very powerful thing for our community.”

In a statement following the meeting, Giese said it is also important to point out the River Arts Center is used as more than just an arts facility. “There are many athletic, FFA and scholarship banquets,” Giese said. “The school uses it for lectures and meetings regularly.  There have been funerals and weddings, bridal and baby showers held there also. The community economic forecast and Eagle Days are held there, too. It really is heavily and widely used.”

 

The cost to taxpayers

 

According to the school district’s figures, the estimated tax impact for the proposed projects is equal to $80 for each $100,000 in home value. Meaning, a house valued at $100,000 would see an $80 increase; a home valued at $200,000 would see an increase of $160, and so on. The project would take 20 years to pay in full.

The school district’s mill rate – a figure used to calculate property taxes – has been declining since 2014. Currently, the district’s mill rate is $9.50. The net impact of the proposed $65 million project would be just below the 2015 rate of $10.50, at $10.49. Wright pointed out while this new debt was taken on, the district would be simultaneously paying off old debt from previous projects, which in turn will reduce the overall tax impact.

Sauk City resident Mark Frey said it is falling to referendums such as the one the school district is proposing to manage growth. “I think Sauk Prairie is one of the few school districts experiencing growth, and I think it is a testament to our success here,” Frey said.  Speaking with regard to the River Arts Center, Frey said he has noticed “a lot of demand for the space, whether a listening session by a politician, the Badger Advisory Board presenting an update on water quality … it’s good to have space available,” Frey said. “It’s not just for the arts community, but also meeting space as well.”

Wright said there might be fundraising opportunities with the district’s outdoor athletic facilities as well as pool, such as naming rights or sponsorship options, which could help bring down the cost of the project.

“We don’t have those contributions solidified right now … I can’t take $1 million off this referendum because I don’t yet have $1 million committed to this project,” Wright said.

 

Timeline

 

The referendum guideline for a spring election proposes a Jan. 20, 2020 special meeting for further discussion and vote on the referendum resolution, if the board does not vote on it during its regularly scheduled meeting Jan. 13. If the board Ok’s the referendum for the April ballot, the referendum question must be filed by Jan. 29.

If the board prefers the referendum to appear on the ballot for the November, 2020 general election, the board would need to vote on a referendum resolution in August, 2020, with the filing deadline for the general election Aug. 26. 

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