Waunakee school officials have resumed planning for a facilities and operational referendum that could appear on the ballot as early as 2022.

The referendum would include a new middle school, a new or renovated Heritage Elementary, improvements to the high-school campus and district office building, as well as funding to cover approximately five years’ worth of districtwide capital-maintenance projects.

The cost of the referendum has been estimated at $74 million to $145 million, depending on its final scope.

Superintendent Randy Guttenberg gave a presentation to the district’s board of education this week, reminding members where they had left off in the planning process prior to COVID-19.

“Where we actually left off was at the point where we had identified the main components that we thought were pertinent for us to have a broader conversation about, community-wise, in order to narrow down our scope,” Guttenberg said. “We were going to take this to the community and get feedback through some workshop-type setups so that we could further narrow that down.”

A community workshop had been scheduled for March 2020 but was canceled after the statewide school closure went into effect and planning for a remote instructional model demanded the district’s undivided attention.

Now that schools have returned to in-person learning, the district has begun looking at ways to engage staff and community members in its referendum efforts once again.

“Part of the process is working with our staff to determine how we use space, so that we can design space that works around how we’re teaching kids in modern learning environments,” Guttenberg said. “Those are some of the things that we’re certainly putting a focus on as we continue to look at renovations or construction of any new facilities.”

Representatives from the architectural firm EUA attended the June 7 board-of-education meeting to familiarize school officials with their planning process as they developed referendum options.

Project manager Robin Savola said staff feedback was an early and important part of the process.

“We start with meeting the district staff, learning about what your needs and goals are, and then develop it into some options. That gets pushed out into community engagement and staff input, and we start to develop solutions,” Savola said. “Really, we’re just trying to get to the needs.”

Middle school

After speaking with teachers and former principal Marcy Peters-Felice in January of 2020, members of the planning team discovered that space had become a significant concern at the middle school. Computer labs had been converted into classrooms, and storage closets into administrative offices, as the school made room for an ever-growing student population.

Administrators said the problem is expected to get worse over the next three years, as larger class sizes in grades 4-6 enter the school. Guttenberg noted that current middle-school enrollment sits at 616 students. Enrollment for the 2022-23 school year has been projected at 692 students.

Current principal Jeff Kenas said needs at the middle school have changed since its construction, as well, requiring different utilization of space within it.

Two options have been presented for the new middle school.

The first option would be to construct a school on the site of Waunakee Intermediate, where an 800-student-capacity building would have the ability to expand to 1000 students if needed.

The second option would be to construct an 800-student school at the current Heritage Elementary site. The latter would only be possible if Heritage is relocated elsewhere in the district, as proposed in one of the options that has been presented for the K-4 building.

Heritage Elementary

During a February 2020 workshop, referendum planners learned that several staff members were dissatisfied with the layout of Heritage Elementary School. Teachers reported that the school lacked collaboration space, small-group instruction rooms and flexible learning environments.

The separation between those learning environments has also led to longer transition times.

Heritage has required significant maintenance in recent years, and the additions made to the school since its construction have resulted in what administrators describe as a patchwork feel. One custodian at the school compared it to “putting lipstick on a pig.”

Three options have been presented for a new or improved Heritage Elementary School.

The first would involve teardown of the north end of the building, and construction of a large addition to the southeast corner of the building.

The second option would be to construct a new school directly east of the existing building. Once construction is complete, the new school would open and the old school demolished. EUA architect said the option had its advantages, as it involved a seamless transition from the former building to the new one.

The third option would be to construct a new Heritage at the site of the Intermediate School. Designers said the option had advantages as well, as having an elementary school on the site would leave more green space to work with than a larger middle school.

Guttenberg said referendum timelines will be considered at an upcoming meeting

Other business

Also at Monday night’s meeting, the school board:

- Reviewed a community growth report by urban planner Mark Roffers

- Authorized administration to purchase or rent an additional portable-classroom unit for Waunakee Middle School, in order to accommodate the bubble classes that will be going through it over the next three years.

- Approved open-enrollment applications for the 2021-22 school year. Sixty-six of the applications to open enroll in Waunakee Community School District were denied.

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