New high school project postponed

Fundraising slow for Wolf River Lutheran
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Leader Photo by Scott Williams A sign with the Wolf River Lutheran name stands in an otherwise vacant field where school administrators now say they hope to start construction next spring.

Contributed Photo A rendering of the proposed new Wolf River Lutheran High School shows the facility that officials say will include classrooms, a gymnasium, a mezzanine and more for the private school’s students and staff.

Eight months after holding groundbreaking ceremonies, administrators at Wolf River Lutheran High School say they lack the funds needed to build a new school near Shawano.

The ceremonies held last November were intended to spur financial donations, officials say, but the project remains hundreds of thousands of dollars short of its goal.

Students and teachers will not be moved into the new facility in the upcoming school year as indicated at the time of the groundbreaking.

“We thought the money would come in better,” school board member Karen Baker said. “It just didn’t materialize.”

Administrators now hope to raise more money and build the private school next year on River Bend Road south of Shawano, near the Boarders Inn and Suites hotel.

Parents of current Wolf River Lutheran students are voicing support for the ongoing building effort.

Amy Rottier said her son, who is approaching his sophomore year, looks forward to spending his last two years of high school in the new facility, under the current construction schedule.

“Whenever it comes, he’s excited to be there,” Rottier said.

Wolf River Lutheran, which holds classes in a former elementary school in Cecil, has been in various stages of discussion and planning for more than 20 years.

Supporters purchased land in 1999 along River Bend Road in the town of Belle Plaine, and donations started coming in for a building effort initially estimated at $1.3 million. With a current price tag of $2 million, officials say donations have not continued as vigorously as they had hoped.

Dennis Genke, the school board’s president, said officials have raised pledges of $1.2 million, with about $700,000 of that available as cash in the bank.

Green Bay-based Bayland Buildings Inc. has signed on as the prospective builder of what has been proposed as an estimated 25,000-square-foot high school with six classrooms, a gymnasium, commons, office space and mezzanine.

Genke said the groundbreaking ceremonies were held Nov. 15 because school administrators felt that donors might come forward in greater numbers if they saw signs of activity on the project. Looking back, Genke said he recognizes that such a risky strategy could “raise some eyebrows.”

“The builders were ready to go,” he said. “Finances were a little bit short.”

Brandishing shovels and hard hats at the construction site, Wolf River Lutheran representatives were joined by church leaders and other supporters in announcing that the project was ready to move forward. Participants talked about possibly having the school ready for students during the 2016-17 school year.

Eight months after the ceremonies, however, the site remains a vacant field. A sign emblazoned with the Wolf River Lutheran stands alone, surrounded by overgrown grass and weeds.

Belle Plaine Town Chairman Alvin Bartz said the project seemed “iffy” at the time of the groundbreaking. But the town chairman said he would prefer that school officials take more time to raise money rather than incur debt and risk future financial troubles.

“I’m glad that they’re waiting until they can swing it,” he said.

Genke said officials plan to launch construction next spring and they hope to have pledges totalling $1.5 million to $1.7 million by that time.

Wolf River Lutheran enrollment has nearly doubled in the past two years, with about 40 students expected for the upcoming school year. That would just about max out the space available in the current building; in fact, a temporary portable classroom might be added to handle overflow.

Genke said the growing enrollment makes the new high school facility more important than ever.

“It’s more of a necessity than a luxury,” he said.

FYI

To make a donation or get more information about Wolf River Lutheran High School, go to wrlhs.org.