A $65 million Chippewa Falls school district referendum is three weeks away from a vote, and school officials are releasing details about its future plans if the taxpayers pass the measure.
Those plans include premature blueprints for a new, roughly $21.1 million Stillson Elementary school, as well as early designs for expansions and remodels at Chippewa Falls Senior High School and the Chippewa Falls Middle School.
Costs for the proposed referendum’s three parts were also revealed: Constructing a three-section Stillson Elementary on a site in the town of Lafayette would cost roughly $21.1 million; updating and remodeling the middle school would cost roughly $24.8 million; and updating and remodeling Chi-Hi would take up roughly $18.9 million.
Mechanical and electrical repairs would take up the lion's share of the middle school and high school budget, at $11.8 million and $14.2 million, respectively. Creating Chi-Hi's STEAM labs is projected to cost $4.6 million; the ten-classroom addition for the middle school also rings in at $4.6 million.
The money would be paid back over a 20-year period, district superintendent Heidi Taylor-Eliopoulos said at the session.
A $65 million referendum would add $125 to the property tax bill of the owner of a $100,000 home.
The formal process of drawing up a construction plan takes six to eight months and wouldn’t start until after the referendum, if it passes, but “we do need to have a conversation about what goes into a three-section elementary school to know what goes into the project costs,” Eliopoulos said.
Just over 20 people — not counting three school board members and several members of the district’s administration — attended an informational session on the referendum Monday at the Chippewa County courthouse.
‘Divided’ concept in Stillson plans
Separate car and bus drop-off sites are highlighted in the Stillson site plan, as well as an emphasis on “collaboration space” — open areas where students can work on projects.
“All of the academic buildings will surround the library, which is centrally located,” Eliopoulos said at the session.
In the plan — which is very preliminary, Eliopoulos said — the Stillson building is designed to be “divided.” The left side, which contains the library and several classrooms, can be closed off from the right side of the school.
The right side, which would hold the gym, cafeteria and kitchen, could be kept open for community events in the evenings, Eliopoulos said.
On Feb. 22, the Chippewa Falls school board voted to purchase a 37-acre parcel in the town of Lafayette on which to re-build Stillson, if the referendum meets with success. Land the district owns on County Highway I — which was also in the running to host Stillson — would most likely be sold, district officials have said.
Collaborative spaces highlighted in middle school, Chi-Hi designs
Under referendum plans, the middle school would get a 10-classroom addition, allowing the district to build permanent walls, doors and hallways.
Currently, the school is outfitted with dividers, not walls, to separate classrooms and public areas.
Classrooms would be re-organized with a large collaborative space in the center, similar to Stillson’s design, according to the district’s plans.
The middle school’s addition would be placed near the front of the building, left of the main entrance and flagpole. The bus drop-off site would be bumped out further, separating bus and car drop-off zones.
As for Chi-Hi, six labs supporting STEAM — science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics — would be added near the entrance guarded by the school’s cardinal mascot.
“Our health science program has really taken off at the high school, but our facility wasn’t built to accommodate that,” Eliopoulos said.
If the funds are granted, Chi-Hi would also be air-conditioned after the remodel, she said.
Uncertainty until the vote
Eliopoulos and district administration fielded questions from the community Monday about the cost of purchasing the Lafayette land, a facilities study and several about the timeline of the potential construction.
Remodels and repairs most likely wouldn’t be completed by this summer, Eliopoulos said of the middle school and Chi-Hi.
As for Stillson, preliminary plans set the finishing date at December of 2020. “We’ll have to have a conversation about that, because that’s right in the middle of a school year. We’d have to figure out what’s least disruptive,” Eliopoulos said.
The potential new site for Stillson would be purchased at fair market value, said district finance manager Chad Trowbridge, but more details weren’t available before the vote.
The April 2018 vote will be the second attempt in two years to pass a referendum for the Chippewa Falls school district. Two referendums — $61.2 and $98 million, respectively — were voted down in November 2016.
The Chippewa Falls school district is the 32nd largest in the state, but ranks 396th in per-pupil spending. The district has seen a 23.8 percent increase in full-time students over the last 32 years, with just over 5,100 students in 2017, Eliopoulos said Monday.