The Waunakee Board of Education discussed the district’s option to purchase the former library last week. While several expressed opposition, some felt it was too early to dismiss the idea.
They cited the fact that the Village of Waunakee’s asking price remains unknown.
“It’s very difficult to come up with a response to whether we’re interested in the property when we have absolutely no idea what the village actually wants to sell it for,” said board member Mike Brandt. “The numbers have changed dramatically over the course of the last year.”
The sale of the former library was included in a development budget for Waunakee’s new library – which priced it at $850,000. However, the village has yet to list it on the market.
Brandt said not knowing the cost of the property makes it tough to gauge the district’s interest.
“It’s frustrating to hear some in the village say the district is being ‘wishy-washy,’” Brandt said, “when we don’t even know what the price is. It’s very difficult to respond to that, when we don’t even know what they’re trying to sell it for.”
Many have wondered whether the municipality would consider donating the former library site to the school district, if only to avoid the maintenance costs associated with its ownership.
“Is there any chance they would give it to us?” asked school-board member Judy Engebretson.
The general consensus throughout the community has been that a donation from the village is unlikely, due to the fact that the municipality has already budgeted in a sale of the property.
“I’m not sure that they would (give it to us),” board member Jack Heinemann said, “because they need money as well. They’ve got a price tag on that building, so they’re going to sell it to pay off the loans for the new public library.”
Even if the former library were gifted to the district, Heinemann said, the cost of maintaining the property would be a burden on the district’s operating budget.
He said funding facility maintenance has been difficult enough, without adding another expense.
“We’d be picking up an old building,” Heinemann said. “And we’d be picking up maintenance, when we already have maintenance challenges. We’re deferring maintenance on our existing buildings…And operationally, you’d have another building you’d have to staff and take care of.”
Treasurer Mark Hetzel agreed, reminding his colleagues that there are other costs to keep in mind – such as having to retrofit a building designed for other purposes nearly 40 years ago.
“I hate the term ‘retrofitting’ on a new (acquisition),” Hetzel said. “If we’re actually looking at a building that we have yet to acquire, and that we are going to have to retrofit for some other educational purposes, is that an ideal situation for our constituents?”
Both he and Heinemann said taking on the property would be a poor financial decision.
“It just doesn’t make sense,” Heinemann said. “If we didn’t have the space, then it might. But given the fact that we’re building new, and we’re already building maintenance funds into our referendum so that we can keep up our properties, it doesn’t seem to fit the operational needs.”
Others expressed interest in pursuing an arrangement that would be beneficial to both the village and the school district. Clerk Julie Waner said that door should remain open as long as possible.
“Anything we can do to collaborate in terms of what makes sense for both of us,” Waner said, “we’re definitely interested in continuing to do. What are their dreams and thoughts, in ways that the building could be used that would help both of us? I think there are possibilities that way.”
Heinemann said something that would benefit both parties is the village hall changing location.
“What would help both of us is moving their municipal office into (the old library),” Heinemann said. “It’s bigger than what they’ve got already, and then they could turn their current facility into private space. That would make sense, because it’s in a shopping area, and help both of us.”
They agreed that such a decision was up to the village, though, and outside the district’s control. The municipality would need to make up its own mind about moving into the former library.
“I suggest we let them plan that,” Engebretson said.
The board ultimately decided to pass on purchasing the property, and let the village move ahead with the selling process. Consideration could still be given to a donation from the municipality, however.
“The answer is it’s an opportunity,” Hetzel said. “But it’s just not the right time, and the costs don’t seem to justify it.”