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Chi-hi sign outdoors

The exterior of the Chippewa Falls Senior High School is pictured on Wednesday, April 4, 2018.

A Chippewa Falls school district referendum of up to $65 million has passed by almost 400 votes.

According to totals from the school district, 3,244 district residents voted yes and 2,850 voted no — roughly 53 percent for and 47 percent against.

A total of 6,094 votes were cast — over twice the number of people who completed a 2017 survey about the referendum.

“Our community is extremely supportive of our schools in so many different ways,” said district superintendent Heidi Eliopoulos in a phone interview. “This is a different level of support.”

Significantly fewer people cast votes on the 2018 referendum than on two 2016 referendums. More than 17,500 people voted on the $61 million referendum question in 2016, and 16,699 people voted on the second, $98 million referendum question.

Both of those 2016 referendums were rejected.

Eliopoulos was unsure if the snow affected the vote, she said in a phone interview; board president Amy Mason called the vote results Tuesday night a “nailbiter.”

“I suspected it would be close,” Mason said.

The referendum will add about $125 to the property tax bill of the owner of a $100,000 home. The money will be paid back over a 20-year period, district finance manager Chad Trowbridge said at a March referendum informational session.

Next steps

The district will sketch out a long-term timeline, then begin the design process, Eliopoulos said. It has employed ATS&R, a Minnesota-based architectural firm.

“What I appreciate about the architect we’re working with (is) he looks at schools not just as buildings, but as learning environments,” Eliopoulos said.

The Chippewa Falls school district worked with the firm to develop a facilities master plan in 2014. ATS&R has often taken on large capital projects at Wisconsin schools, including ventures at the Weyauwega-Fremont School District, Boyceville Community School District and the School District of New Richmond.

Mason said the $65 million budget and proper timeframes are a high priority: “It’s important for us to demonstrate fiscal responsibility to the community by making sure we stay in budget and get the work done in the time frame,” she said in a phone interview Wednesday.

In upcoming months, the board will engage focus groups to develop plans for the new Stillson Elementary, Mason said, and complete the purchase of land in Lafayette for the new school.

“We do have a plan as far as timelines, and now with the referendum passing, all that will kick into gear,” she said.

The district has no foreseeable plans to ask voters for money to build a new high school in the future, Eliopoulos said Wednesday.

“In the survey, when the community was asked about the high school and what should be done with it ... (they) said, make additions and remodel the current high school in the current location,” Eliopoulos said. “From our point of view, that’s the future of the high school.”

Larger referendums rejected

The decision comes after voters rejected two referendums in November 2016 — one proposal of up to $61 million to replace Stillson Elementary, one for up to $98 million to build a new high school.

The issue of Stillson remained contentious in the 2018 referendum. School board members deliberated for several meetings over the location, eventually settling on a 37-acre plot of land in the town of Lafayette.

The Chippewa Falls school board first eliminated the possibility of building the school on a 19-acre site on County Highway I.

The County Highway I land — which the district currently owns — will be sold.

A final vote narrowed the selection to a parcel — roughly 37 acres — in the town of Lafayette, about a mile west of Stillson’s current location at 17250 County Highway J, according to results of a 2017 referendum survey.

Funds from the referendum cannot be used to purchase land, school finance manager Chad Trowbridge said at a school board meeting. The district would plan to use the sale of the County Highway I property to spur the purchase of the 37-acre plot in Lafayette.

Inside the 2018 referendum

Constructing a three-section Stillson Elementary is expected to cost roughly $21.1 million, the district said at an informational session in March.

Updating and remodeling the middle school will cost roughly $24.8 million. Updating and remodeling Chi-Hi will take up roughly $18.9 million.

Mechanical and electrical repairs will 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 formal process of drawing up a construction plan takes six to eight months and wouldn’t start until after the referendum, Eliopoulos said.

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.

In the plan, 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.

Under referendum plans, the middle school will get a 10-classroom addition, allowing the district to build permanent walls, doors and hallways.

Classrooms will 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 will be placed near the front of the building, left of the main entrance and flagpole. The bus drop-off site will 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 — will 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.

Chi-Hi will also be air-conditioned after the remodel.

Editor’s note: This story was updated throughout the afternoon of Wednesday, April 4, with updated vote totals from the district, total votes cast and comments from district superintendent Heidi Eliopoulos and board president Amy Mason.

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(30) comments

wiggle

Now, time to start working on a new high school!
Right “Dr.” Eliopoulos!?!?

Merlin

They have been working on the new high school. This was only the beginning for them.

This passed because of the weather, not because it is what the voters wanted. But, like anything else, they will take it as a sign the tax payers want to needlessly spend more money and push for even more money. Then when that fails, they will keep bringing it to the table until some condition makes it favorable that it will pass, like the weather, or holding it on an odd day with little advertisement like they did when the parkview referendum passed on what? the 4th, 5th or 6th try? I lost count on that one.

Radar

Over the past three years, the school board and the superintendent have gone above and beyond providing the public detailed information regarding issues that needed to be addressed within the school district. Their first proposal ended in failure 18 months ago, so they took the commendable step of reaching out to the taxpayers again for feedback about what they could fiscally support and made the appropriate adjustments. Everybody in the county knew about this referendum and that it would be on the spring ballot, thanks to public forums held, mailers delivered, and abundant media coverage. There was no deception or surprises. The voters have spoken. The people have spoken. The discussion is now over. It's time to dust off your checkbook Merlin, and pay up what you both legally and morally owe the community in which you live.

Merlin

Legalities and morals? That's hilarious! You mean like a school board buying property it has no business buying? Or Obama Math numbers that don't add up? How about those "hard figures" they have?

You are the epitome of the type of voter politicians love, question nothing and follow them over a cliff.

Radar

Wrong, Merlin. I've been a homeowner in Chippewa Falls for 20 years, and been employed full-time in the workforce 26. I've been been to numerous school board meetings and public forums regarding this matter, and consider myself very well versed in the matter. School buildings, along with any other facility, occasionally need updates and improvements. You, me, and all property owners are legally obligated to financially support the public school system in the community. We're all morally obligated as well. You know why? Because when we were youths in school the public fiscally-supported our educations. Now it's our turn. Get your checkbook out; you're going to have a bill to pay. Don't like it? Tough. No one gets a free ride.

BiggySmalls

Merlin, Excuses are like a holes. Everyone has one. There was no deception on the part of the school district. Unless you had your head in the sand, the district was quite clear and open on the changes that needed to take place with the buildings. All of these changes were needed. Have you ever bothered to look at the other schools in the conference? Have you even bothered to ever look inside the middle or high school in CF? Probably not. Our high school facility is the worst in the conference, and it's not really that close. The changes are mainly maintenance related. Stillson is almost 100 years old. That school is a piece of junk. It no longer fits that growing area. How about investing a little in your community? It's not that much per household. As for the Parkview referendum, that happened almost 25 years ago. Grow up and get over it.

TricoSpinner

stillson isn't "almost 100 years old." the one room school house portion of it that mr. hanson uses as an art room is almost 100 year old. the rest of the building is quite modern, including the new roof and new parking lot we just put in 3 years ago.

JamesL

No deception? Give me a break. Everyone I talked to said how bad af shape Stillson was in and yet none of those people had ever stepped foot in that school. I have 2 children in Stillson and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that building. We spent over a million dollars putting a new roof and entryway on Stillson a year and a half ago . And now that money is just flushed down the toilet. 53% of the people want a big fancy school that’s not needed and the 47% of us that don’t want it are stuck paying for it. Like it or not

Merlin

You were deceived. Their math doesn't add up. $125 per $100,000 of home value? Go do the math - there isn't enough property value to pay this off in 20 years at that rate . The only way it works is if the mill rate is higher than what they are telling us OR your assessed value goes up. Guess what, assessments are due right about now and there is a housing crunch in our area.

And that is only the beginning. They lied about Stillson, they are lying about how much it "should" cost vs. building some architecturally pleasing building vs. functionality, they are putting AC in a building that isn't efficient for 2 months out of the year with no way to pay the cost to run it, and they are still buying property.

At the end of the day, you have no idea what you don't know. And apparently you haven't lived here long enough to have seen what deception they are capable of. Every time they build a school or add on, it never meets it's intended need whether that need was real or imagined. You think Parkview is the only example? CFMS? Halmstead? Chi-Hi additions? All wrong...

Merlin

I missed that "worst in the conference" part - you are a laugh a minute - WHO CARES! I have been in our schools, I even attended some of them. Is the education lacking? That IS what schools are for isn't it?????????????????????????

The focus isn't on EDUCATION - if it were than we would be talking about hiring and keeping the best and the brightest teachers. Spending money on things that make EDUCATION better. Believe it or not - some kids probably would learn just was well if not better sitting home attending school online!

I just can't believe how naive you are. The world isn't about keeping up with other conference schools! Chippewa Falls ranks pretty high in education - you know the reason you go to school to begin with? Is it dead last IN THE CONFERENCE???

You can't make this stuff up...

BiggySmalls

@Merlin...Who cares? The high school (at least the old section) is incredibly dated. You are correct, it is about the education of the students, but the methods of teaching have changed dramatically over the last 2 decades. I have lived in CF for 40 years, and I agree with you about the middle school. That building is terrible and should have never been built the way it was. That building was built in 1977 I believe. Unfortunately, it was built like that, and we can't turn back the clock on that. Heck, the decision makers on that building aren't even around anymore. It is a fact though, that building is not ideal. I did go to that middle school and it was not the greatest learning environment. Since it's obvious the community won't support a new middle or high school, what's the next best thing? It's to work with what is there to make it better. As for Stillson, there is nothing that would convince me otherwise. That building is a piece of crap. The land is tiny, and the front door is practically on highway J. Overall, we live in a pretty fiscally responsible school district. We haven't had debt in years. Most districts can't say that. I for one am happy to support upgrading my schools that gave me a great learning experience years ago.

TricoSpinner

this passed purely because of the snow storm. i'm in stillson al the time; there's nothing wrong with it that $100,000 wouldn't fix. completely astounding.

BiggySmalls

Get real. $100k? I would actually laugh if that wasn't so stupid. The snow storm deterred no one. Even if it did, I guess it helped the yes votes? Again laughable. The superintendent and the school board were incredibly open about the referendum and what needed to be done. They sent out surveys to residents via mail and email to gauge the communities willingness to support and at what level. They laid out exactly what would be done and why. They mailed information, emailed information, posted information on social media, and held about 6 public meetings with Q&A. Did you even bother going to one of those meetings? I went to one, and there was about a dozen citizens there. How pathetic is that? Nope, this had nothing to do with the stupid snow storm. The roads weren't even that bad. Most people don't have to travel far for a polling site. This was enough people in this community believing in, and supporting the needs of our school children.

TricoSpinner

sorry, i left of some zeros while typing. i meant 1 million. the only thing seriously wrong with the building is plumbing. not sure why we need to build a 21 million new building because some plumbing at stillson is bad. nobody would tear their house down and rebuild it because of bad plumbing, they'd do the fiscally responsible thing and fix the plumbing. heidi wants grand new buildings to show off, pure & simple. the other thing that should trouble everyone is that if they knew they needed to replace the building asap, why did they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a new roof, new parking lot, new playground equipment, and other building remodels? why waste all of that money if you knew you were going to abandon the school? because it's magical tax money & you have no accountability.

BiggySmalls

No accountability? Isn’t that why there’s a vote?

CHIPgirl

I totally agree with you BiggySmalls! The district did everything possible to inform the community and gauge their interest in regards to all of the buildings. I attended an informational session last year at Stillson and heard multiple people talk about the poor plumbing in the building. The cafeteria staff are using the water during/after lunch and the kids can't even flush the toilets since there is little to no water pressure. The plumbing had been asssessed and deemed unable to continue band-aiding.

This did not pass due to the snowy weather. I find that to be a big reach for an excuse. I'm proud tat the community found the desire to make Stillson a better place for OUR kids!

Merlin

Was that before or after someone told them where to turn the newer well on? That was an uninformed meeting where there was a solution but the custodian retired and no on bothered to ask how anything worked there.

Terminator

The article states "In preliminary results from the county, 3,235 district taxpayers voted yes and 2,846 voted no." Ok, what if you are not a property taxpayer in the school district, can you vote if you are an eligible voter? You don't have any "skin in the game" sort of speak. How about seniors and others living on fixed incomes, are they just "friendly fire". There is no correlation between property valuation and the ability to pay. I feel sorry for the seniors and others living on fixed incomes in the Chippewa School District.

BiggySmalls

Sorry, but there are seniors and others living on a fixed income in more than just Chippewa Falls. This is the system that is set in place by the state. Complain to your state rep if you don’t like it.

Merlin

Actually if you pay to live anywhere in the district or own a home, you are affected. What you pay in rent or for assisted living or whatever is in part determined by the property taxes that the owner pays. They are on a fixed income and they are about to shell out more of that in higher fees and rent to pay for this.

justamom

There are 5115 students in the Chippewa Falls school district. There were 3244 yes votes for this referendum. That means that you could not even get one parent of every student in the district to vote yes for this waste of money.

BiggySmalls

And even less said no. Approximately 22% of eligible voters cast a ballot.

Handy Facts

Chippewa has had a lower tax rate than other districts for a long time. Embarrasing that other higher taxed districts pass their referendums with flying colors and here we can barely pass one. People are willing to pay for what they value. Seems like many in CF don't value their schools. $125.00 increase is nothing. I lived in another city and our school referendum increased our home taxes way more than this, and that community passed another referendum a few years later. Didn't read negative comments like these there either.

empire2

It’s a shame only 3200 people got to decide that ALL taxpayers will be on the hook for this money. But that’s the non voters fault. I hope it’s a lesson for future referendums.

justamom

I do value education and received an excellent one - it did not depend on the building or air conditioning. This referrendum does show what people value - new, fancy things instead of fixing what we have.

carol 81

I have 2 children who have graduated from Chi High and one still there. I am for education, but it's not about the building, it's about the teachers. I agree buildings need maintenance but this should have been done all along. I'm sure Stillson needs upgrades but it's excessive 21 million for a new school in a new location. If my septic goes bad, I don't go out and buy a new house. Yes, I attended the listening sessions and it was annoying. She would not answer any questions I had. Plus the questionnaire was extremely biased. The way it was formatted assumed all residents wanted it. To the person that said Chi high was the worst building in the area. You are insane! Memorial is awful. Their track sucks as well as the building. We are extremely fortunate for Chi High. I would much rather give the teachers more money. And yes the weather did make a difference especially to the elderly. It is what it is, so we have to suck it up and live with it. But know we need maintenance not new buildings!!!

Houl

It's gratefully have such a votes. Earlier, AU PapersOwl described in detail the causes and effects of this referendum in the school. I hope in the future this event will spur only to the development and professional growth of students. Thanks!

JamesL

My Monday wages pay for my property taxes, Tuesday pays for my income taxes, Wednesday pays for my sales tax. Thursday and Friday wages are all mine!

Moderate Voter

I'm with TricoSpinner. Fix the plumbing for $1,000,000 or new school and another area off the tax rolls for $21,000,000? I was wondering why schools were closed with very little snow in the morning--it was so education professionals had all day to vote while others were juggling kids & work and had less time to vote. The roads were MUCH worse on Wednesday morning and schools were open. Things that make you go hmmmmm.......

Thomas Cobb

How do I skip all the ads and read the article?

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