Another referendum could be on the ballot in Stoughton next year.
With several large capital maintenance projects looming, the Stoughton Area School District administration is hoping to also reshape its campuses to address future needs.
The school board will discuss four proposals at its Monday, June 7 meeting. They range from an $18.9 million referendum with a minimal tax impact, to $62 million, which would increase school taxes $363 for the owner of a $250,000 home.
While the board could vote on the plan next week, several months of discussion is likely. Before any vote on going to referendum in fall 2022, the district plans to gather feedback from staff and community members, including a potential community survey in the fall, said school board president Frank Sullivan.
“As we move through this process, it will be critical that we gather feedback from our stakeholders: community members, parents, taxpayers, and students,” he said in a district news release last week. “What is their vision for the future of Stoughton’s schools?”
The four proposed scenarios, with price tags of $18.9 million, $47 million, $51.3 million and $62 million, would add infrastructure at all schools, raze the former Yahara Elementary and address the district’s oldest school, Kegonsa Elementary.
Scenario 2 would convert Sandhill Elementary to a middle school and River Bluff Middle school to an elementary campus. Scenario 3 would replace Kegonsa with a new school on the current site, while the fourth scenario would raze Kegonsa and expand Fox Prairie Elementary.
At the core of the proposal is $16.5 million in high-priority maintenance needs identified in the past few years by district officials and EUA Learning Architecture, planning and development consultants for the district.
Buildings and grounds supervisor Luke Butz told the board at its May 17 meeting that includes normal replacement and updating of large systems like HVAC or roofing, as well as longer-term projects.
“Some are as simple as updating our buildings, (but) something that was really brought to the surface through the pandemic … is that additional space is needed to better serve our students throughout the district,” he said.
Superintendent Tim Onsager said in a district news release from last week that while staff work hard with limited resources to maintain facilities, items like roof and window replacements, HVAC equipment and other large building systems are expensive.
“Large capital purchases are often deferred so the district can avoid painful reductions to classroom instruction,” he said.
At the same time, Onsager said, many district sites “lack flexible, adaptable learning environments that help support evolving methods of instructional delivery.”
That, he said, could be addressed by combining the needed upgrades in the referendum funding.
“Small group instructional rooms, collaboration areas, learning commons and other more modern school environments help facilitate active, project-based, student-centered learning,” he wrote.
Tax raise in 2024
The timing is a combination of district needs and the retiring of all current debt in 2023, director of business services Erica Pickett said at the May 17 meeting.
That, she said, would minimize the impact to district taxpayers when debt repayment begins in 2024.
“The students that we serve now have different needs and maybe more complex needs,” she said. “We also recognize that capital maintenance is difficult to fully address within any schools’ operational budget.”
Aside from a $7.25 million maintenance referendum in 2010 and a 2003 referendum to build a pool at Stoughton High School , Pickett said the district’s last “large capital project referendum” and “major renovation” was in 1996.
“We built two new schools and also addressed a variety of needs in the district,” she said.
Picket said returning the district’s debt in two years “really does provide an opportunity to have some conversation around what our needs are, and what some of those challenges are from a learning perspective that we can address.”
Buildings could go
Three district-owned buildings are on the chopping block with the board’s decision. Two are located near the district office/River Bluff Middle School campus, the Community Building – otherwise known as the 1892 building – and the Community Gym, which Butz said is in need of “quite a bit of work and possibly replacement.”
The 1892 building – named for when it was built to serve as a high school – has been used only for storage for decades and is in need of significant repairs. It’s been considered as a potential site for a community tech center, though Butz said it’s future is unclear.
“We’re still trying to figure out what is the best use of space, and how we’re going to fund that,” he said.
The other is the former Yahara Elementary School and current Martin Luther Christian School, which has leased the building from the district since 2010 after the district closed it in 2008. Butz said the building, constructed in 1959, has “reached the end of its useful life.”