Board approves language for fall referendum

2 questions to go to voters Nov. 6
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Wittenberg-Birnamwood School District residents will be asked in November to approve up to $17.5 million for new construction and upgrades at all three district buildings.

“We are excited about the plan to improve our building infrastructure throughout the district,” Superintendent Garrett Rogowski said. “Allowing our residents the opportunity to help make that decision is the right thing to do.”

The Wittenberg-Birnamwood School Board approved the language for two referendum questions in July; one for improvements across the district estimated to cost $13.1 million and a second for a new “physical education space” ($4.4 million) at the high school.

If voters approve both questions, officials estimate the tax, or mill, rate would increase from $8.15 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to $9.99, which translates into $184 more in taxes on a $100,000 home for each of the next 20 years. If just the first question passes, the rate would increase $1.39, to $9.54, or $139 more per year on a $100,000 home. If just the second question passes, the rate would increase to $8.60, or $45 more per year.

The first question calls for a new 7,800-square-foot building, primarily for agriculture classrooms and maintenance storage, next to the high school, a two-story addition to Wittenberg Elementary-Middle School and two new classrooms at Birnamwood Elementary-Middle School.

Three 900-square-foot classrooms would be added at Wittenberg Elementary-Middle School and two 1,200-square-foot classrooms at Birnamwood. Both buildings would be reconfigured to provide more classroom space for the music program.

In addition to the new building for ag programs, the first question also includes major changes at the high school, including the following:

• The family and consumer science room would be renovated with stainless steel appliances, table and prep area with restaurant-quality equipment.

• The technical education area would get a new dust-collection and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system. Upgrades in the STEM and computer lab area would allow the area to be used by teachers throughout the school. The work includes more electrical outlets and upgrades to computers and servers.

• The wood shop would get new lathes, planers and table saws. The metal shop would replace drill presses and welding equipment. A finishing room equipped with a new exhaust system would be shared by the wood shop and the new art department.

• A small-engine work room would occupy the former ag space.

• Storage space would be created directly across the hall from the stage area to house the theatrical props and scenery.

The new building in the second question would help alleviate scheduling issues with the current gymnasiums and would be used by youth programs as well as middle and high school programs, according to Rogowski. The price includes a gym and bleachers. locker rooms? bath rooms? wrestling mats?no weight room equipment?no the devil is in the details, right? includes scoreboards and basketball hoops and there will be bathrooms in the lobby area

The district will also upgrade safety measures at all three of its schools, with controlled-access entrances, shatter-resistant film for windows and trauma-sensitive training for staff. The district recently received a $64,275 grant through the state’s school safety legislation passed in March to help with the upgrades.

Board members Tammy Pestka, Kristy Meredith, Chuck Wendler, Tammy Wendler, Bree Krueger-Schmidt, Dan Stewart and Laura Magee voted in favor of placing both resolutions on the ballot. Chris Pietz and Dennis Rew supported the first question but voted against including the second question.

Before the vote, Rew expressed concern that the estimated construction and labor costs could increase while the referendum is debated. Rogowski said a cushion had been built into the proposals.

The district’s numbers are based on an estimated 4.25 percent interest rate. Land that is used for farming, recreation or forest management is taxed at a different rate not reflected in the above estimates.

The board plans to schedule listening sessions to hear district residents’ opinions about the proposal. The public’s first opportunity to share their views will be the district’s annual meeting at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 27 at the high school.

A planning committee formed nearly three years ago developed initial plans regarding the district needs, and a group of 35 community representatives and district staff held several meetings to create a long-term vision for the district. The vision came with a price tag ranging from $6 million to $22 million.

The Nov. 6 ballot also includes races for U.S. Senate and House, governor and other state offices, state senate and assembly, and county offices of sheriff, clerk of circuit court and coroner.