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The Facilities Conversation
The Facility Conversation
A discussion about district facilities has taken center stage in community conversations this week. The various headlines and articles in the media may be interesting, but they can’t possibly tell the entire story. Folks make assumptions based upon what they read or hear. Having factual information is an important part of any process that could impact the future of our facilities.
In June, the board of education heard the results of a full facilities study completed by experts in a variety of fields. The team included mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, architects, and other experts in a variety of trades. The study was a comprehensive review of all infrastructures, systems, and facilities.
The report to the board outlined a list of 1-10 year needs and recommended solutions for all eight of the district buildings. The report also provided estimates for a variety of facility options. The study concluded that our facilities have been well maintained and are currently structurally sound, but that they also have 1-10 year needs of between $17-$27 million dollars.
The board wanted additional feedback from the community. A facilities task force was formed and asked to further examine the study, review the options for all eight sites, and make recommendations to the board. The task force participated in tours of River Heights and Menomonie High School, discussed detailed presentations regarding the study, viewed pictures and areas of concerns for all sites, reviewed district financing options and heard about current debt structure for our facilities.
The community facilities task force was appointed by the board to study the reports and develop position statements in seven mandated areas. The mandated areas for discussion included future use of buildings, funding, equity, infrastructure performance, educational quality, safety and security, and operational objectives.
The task force compared the various options being presented and weighed them against the mandates. They did not vote on any single recommendation. However, some of the options stacked up more favorably than others when compared to the mandate area concerns.
The task force report was presented to the board on Monday night. The board will use the information to refine some possible long-range solutions and eventually have a decision about next steps and possible solutions. Once a solution has been determined, the entire process will take years to complete.
The facilities study focused on the needs at all eight sites. Media sources have highlighted the future of Downsville Elementary. Downsville is currently a structurally sound and well-maintained site. In fact, we resided the exterior and painted the entire facility this summer. It is an exceptional community school with strong family participation and a great staff. It is not going anywhere any time soon.
The biggest considerations impacting the long-range projections for Downsville Elementary are the age of the building, condition of the infrastructure, code concerns, and the estimated life of the building. The building was built in 1955 and has seen additions in 1961, 1963, and 1979. The roof is a wooden structure and the heating and ventilation systems date back to 1960. It is our oldest building.
One of the conclusions from the study was that, due to the facility needs and code issues at Downsville, it is not an option to remodel the building. Any commitment to a school in Downsville would require brand new construction.
Setting the course to have viable buildings for the next 30-50 years requires an examination of a multitude of factors that must be carefully weighed by the board. Potential solutions have district-wide impact. They are charged with making the best decisions they can for our students, families, and district.
We have been faced with similar decisions at several points in our history. In fact, Menomonie’s first consolidation came in the late 1800s. As the Knapp, Stout & Co. Company grew, so did the city. With that growth came the need for more schools. Ultimately, there were seven small elementary units built. We knew them as Central, Fowler, Coddington, East, and North. In addition, there was a one-room school at “the Junction” and one at “Midway” on the west side of town. In time, the one-room schools were discontinued and pupils transported by horse-drawn busses to the city school nearest their homes.
Our more recent consolidations came with the closures of Little Elk Creek, East School, Lucas, North School, and Cedar Falls. My own children attended both North Elementary and Cedar Falls before being moved to Wakanda Elementary in 1997.
Any decision that would eventually close or consolidate schools would not have an impact for many years. Any proposed solution will be well explained to our community and provide opportunities for feedback. The board of education will look at all aspects of the issue and they are committed to a transparent process.
School closures and boundary changes always stir a lot of emotion. Our families are passionate about their neighborhood schools. As a district, that is a very good problem to have and one we will welcome as we have this conversation.
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