The Waunakee school board is beginning to plan for a November 2020 referendum, and while board members have the projects in mind, several details – including the cost – have yet to be determined.
School district Superintendent Randy Guttenberg spoke about the facility plans at the Dec. 5 Waunakee Rotary meeting. He began by saying that school districts are as good as their communities, and noted the service clubs’, like Rotary’s, opportunities for students such as scholarships, seminars and community service, add to the excellence.
Guttenberg described some of the district’s demographics. It serves over 4,300 students in grades 4k-12. Now in his 12th year, Guttenberg said the student body has grown by about 1,000 since he began, and the community continues to grow with families.
The student body is becoming more diverse: 7 percent are economically disadvantaged, 9 percent have disabilities, 12 percent is non-Caucasian and 90 students do not speak English as their primary language.
The district is a leader in the state for student achievement, ranking in the top 10 or 12, Guttenberg said.
The upcoming referendum is the result of a long-range facility growth plan. The first phase occurred when Prairie Elementary was added onto.
In 2010, a referendum included four questions, but just one passed – adding a second level to the high school.
“We heard from the community that they didn’t see a long-term vision,” Guttenberg said.
Between 2010 and 2013, school board members worked with their planner, Mark Roffers, about what they wanted to see for facilities. They decided they wanted only one middle school and to maintain the current grade configuration.
“Once we were able to vet out what those parameters were, we could put a plan together,” Guttenberg said.
The first phase included the Prairie Elementary addition, the remodeling of Heritage Elementary and a new Intermediate School on Woodland Drive, allowing Heritage to expand into the South Street building. Another referendum question asked if the district should exceed the revenue cap to fund a maintenance program and operating costs for the new school. The price tag was $44.8 million for the 2014 referendum.
“Today we are in the early stages of Phase 2,” Guttenberg said.
That will include renovating the oldest sections of the Heritage Elementary School building and building a new middle school on district-owned property next to the Intermediate School on Woodland Drive. The South Street middle school would serve as part of the high school campus.
Guttenberg said exactly how Heritage would be remodeled is still being studied.
“It’s also causing us to really look at the building,” Guttenberg said, adding that the oldest parts may need to be demolished.
“What’s the balancing point of trying to do maintenance on that piece or tearing down part of the building?” he asked.
Guttenberg noted that the existing middle school has a two-classroom portable unit behind it.
A third phase is also planned – another elementary school in 2025.
School board members and administrators asked if there were advantages to one larger-scale referendum, and learned that it could save about $10 million over a 10-year period.
The referendum will also ask voters to approve exceeding revenue caps to continue with maintenance and cover operating costs for the new building.
“I think the piece our board is taking a look at is, how does this look in Phase 2 and does this make the most sense?” Guttenberg said. “So there will be quite a bit of engagement. There will be some community outreach and workshops, there will be a community survey that will help to vet out and get some feedback and get some thoughts on what are different parts of this plan before we actually finalize it.”
A final plan would need to be presented this spring for a November 2020 referendum.