Waunakee Community School District (WCSD) residents could see a referendum on their ballot next year, as school officials seek approval to move forward with the second phase of a master plan that calls for major capital improvements and facility maintenance throughout the district.

The referendum would ask taxpayers for authorization to issue general obligation bonds so that the district can construct a new middle school, a new or renovated elementary school, or both.

Improvements to the high-school campus and district office could be part of the referendum as well.

WCSD administrator Randy Guttenberg said the district had officially launched planning efforts for that referendum, which it anticipates presenting to voters during the November 2022 election.

“In order to hit that date, we have a number of things that need to occur,” Guttenberg said as he presented information to the district’s board of education Monday night. “We have to make sure that our staff and community are informed. And we have to ensure that we have and analyze our enrollment projections, so that we understand some of the ‘why’ as far as what we are doing.”

Guttenberg said the referendum is part of the district’s long-range facility planning, which dates back to 2010. WCSD residents were presented two referendum questions at that time – one to authorize an expansion and renovations at the high school, and another for an elementary school.

Voters approved the high-school expansion, but not the K-6 referendum.

“And when we vetted that out with the community as far as what was occurring, as far as why there wasn’t support with moving that part of the project forward, it really was hinged on wanting to see a long-range master plan for the district. So from that,” Guttenberg said, “we took a very concerted effort to look at our growth and look at all of our options.”

School officials spent the next three years establishing a long-range facility plan to guide future capital improvements, which would occur over an extended period of time and multiple phases.

Phase one included a new intermediate school, which residents approved in a 2014 referendum.

Planning for phase two began in 2019, but was paused last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With protocols outlining mitigation strategies, sanitation systems and procedures for dealing with positive cases now in place, the district has resumed its referendum planning once again.

Guttenberg said facility planning is based on three basic needs: preparing for enrollment growth, modernizing learning environments, and addressing district-wide capital maintenance.

Preparing for enrollment growth

Guttenberg noted that student enrollment has increased by approximately 85 students since the end of the 2020-21 school year, placing additional space demands on K-12 buildings.

“We have north of 80 kids that we gained this school year over what we had projected from last year,” Guttenberg said. “And some of the things we see is that we still remain to be a community that people are moving to. We see that with the growth into our subdivisions. So part of our work is to continue to monitor our enrollment.”

Waunakee Middle School has felt the effects of enrollment growth perhaps more than any other building in the district. Growing class sizes have caused overcrowding in hallways and the need for some instructors to teach out of portable classrooms located behind the school.

The problem is expected to get worse in the upcoming years.

Urban & School District Planner Mark Roffers recently projected that student enrollment at the middle school will soon surpass 650 students and likely never fall below that threshold again.

Modernizing learning environments

Guttenberg noted that instructors teach in different ways and configurations than they did in the past. Most modern learning environments have incorporated within them collaborative spaces, places for small- and large-group instruction, and areas flexible enough to meet the needs of teachers.

Guttenberg said some of those elements are missing in WCSD’s older buildings.

“Large-group instruction space is something that we have a lack of within our district. We’re looking to create more of those,” Guttenberg said. “So when we look at our learning environments, it’s not only modernizing them for how we teach but also looking at them programmatically to see how we can move forward and make our district stronger.”

Waunakee school-board members have also discussed renovations to the high-school welding lab, metals and wood labs, but have yet to determine the exact scope of those improvements.

Addressing capital-maintenance needs

School officials recently put together a 20-year capital-maintenance list, noting the year that items located at district facilities will reach the end of their useful life. Board-of-education members agreed that projects needing to be addressed within the next five years should be included in any referendum they present to voters, to avoid encountering unfunded expenditures.

The cost of those projects has been estimated between $24.8 million and $31.2 million.

Project executive and vice president of Vogel Bros. Building Company Jay Thomsen said that the range in price point was due to the fact that the scope and timing of projects have yet to be determined.

“For instance, if you’re going to replace the ceilings and the light fixtures at the same time, you can be more efficient than if you’re looking at each of those components individually,” Thomsen said. “The other thing to note is, as the pathways are determined, there would be work in some of the schools that would take work off this maintenance list.”

Thomsen cited Heritage Elementary as an example of a building in which capital-maintenance costs would largely depend upon the scope of renovations taking place at the school.

Planners have estimated maintenance work at Heritage costing between $5 million and $6 million.

“Depending on the solution for Heritage, some of that could come off the maintenance list and make that maintenance bucket smaller,” said Thomsen, whose company will manage construction.

School-board president Joan Ensign asked about the availability of products, and whether Vogel Bros. expected any delays due to supply-chain shortages. Thomsen acknowledged that his company had experienced late deliveries from vendors, but said he didn’t foresee delays being an issue during school construction due to the lapse between a referendum and actual groundbreaking.

“The advantage you have here is, with a November 2022 referendum, construction is likely not starting until 6-9 months after that. So we have the ability to plan for some of those longer-lead items that are critical and get in the queue in the appropriate time,” Thomsen said.

Guttenberg shared a preliminary timeline that referendum planners had put together as well. The timeline has called for two board workshops this fall to vet out potential referendum pathways.

“As we look at our key questions,” Guttenberg said, “one of the decisions that we have to make is about Heritage Elementary. Do we renovate, expand it or construct a new Heritage? That’s one pathway that we have to vet out with regards to our elementary-space needs. The second item is related to our new middle-school construction… What we have to determine is, how are we going to package those together to bring to the community for consideration?”

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