Recommendations by the Facilities Task Force were presented at the school board meeting on Monday. Community task force members Lee Schwebs and Brent McLeod reported.
“We have fairly good facilities with the exception of Downsville,” said Schwebs.
Entrusted with seven mandates — future use, educational quality, safety and security, equity, operational objectives, infrastructure performance and funding — the task force set about its challenge. A total of 17 members toured all the buildings, reviewed the SDS Architects’ study that outlined one- to 10-year needs, and heard a presentation by RW Baird and Associates regarding district financing options and current debt. The task force then weighed options to make a final determination.
The recommendation is “take care of what we have now,” according to Schwebs, but also remodel River Heights Elementary and the high school and close Downsville Elementary.
The board was assured that all facilities are structurally sound, except for Downsville.
McLeod said Downsville was “a shock to me... I was born and raised in Menomonie, and there has been no change in 30 years.” He said the school is “beyond help, and it doesn’t make sense to put money in a money pit.”
Furthermore, he said, “Downsville has seen its useful days. It doesn’t make sense to build a new school on the outskirts of the city.”
Schwebs said the facility was built as a commercial building, not as a school.
The plan would be to consolidate, a process that would be gradual over the next several years. District administrator Chris Stratton said that would give parents and the community time to brace for it and the eventual lifestyle change.
Board member Frank Burdick questioned why a new high school was not on the table.
McLeod said it was not fiscally responsible. Also, to raze the current building would cost nearly $2 million, and a new building site does not exist.
Board member Tammy Schneider asked about funding for the overall project and community support.
McLeod said the board should take advantage of low interest rates. “We should grasp the opportunity when it arises,” he said. He further commented that the task force looked at the community as a whole and focused on “what’s best for kids.”
The estimated cost for the project of facility upgrades and remodeling River Heights (including air conditioning) and the high school is between $62 million and $72 million. Energy-efficient and technology-ready buildings are priorities.
The concepts of the plan will be redefined by the board and the task force in November for presentation in December. A decision about a possible referendum could come in January.
For more about the school board meeting, see Sunday's Dunn County News.