July 18, 2024

WCA School Board evaluates options for elementary school buildings

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Jake Sias
Grant County Herald

West Central Area School Board convened to address the pressing issue of maintaining and rehabilitating their North and South elementary school buildings. Both structures have aged significantly, necessitating a comprehensive assessment of their current state and future viability. This evaluation was conducted by Widseth, an architectural and engineering firm, which presented its findings to the board members.

During the meeting, a detailed discussion ensued about the condition of the buildings and the potential costs associated with various rehabilitation and construction options. Widseth’s representative provided an in-depth report highlighting the priority areas needing immediate attention, focusing on life safety, building envelope, and building systems.

The assessment identified several issues, including broken exit signage, roof leaks, outdated boilers, non-functional powered roof ventilators, and the need for electrical panel replacements. Roof replacements were a concern due to their impact on overall building integrity and insurance considerations. Widseth suggested that while short-term repairs might buy some time, long-term solutions were essential for sustaining the buildings’ functionality.

Sara Strunk emphasized the need for clear cost breakdowns. Widseth reported that the rehabilitation of both buildings would cost approximately $17 million. This figure encompasses high-priority items, but does not address all potential improvements. Strunk inquired about the cost per square foot for these renovations, revealing that North Elementary’s rehabilitation would amount to $166 per square foot, while South Elementary would be $201 per square foot. In contrast, constructing new buildings would cost approximately $400 per square foot​​​​.

Superintendent Paul Brownlow highlighted the importance of not only addressing physical infrastructure, but also considering educational adequacy. The board debated the need to align building improvements with educational goals, ensuring that any investment supports long-term academic excellence. Miah Ulrich posed the question: “Is educational adequacy one of our priorities?” This question resonated with board members, who acknowledged the need to enhance both physical conditions and learning environments.

To explore these issues comprehensively, the board discussed forming a task force. This group would comprise community members, educators, and stakeholders who would delve into the intricacies of the facilities’ needs and potential solutions. The task force would be tasked with evaluating current space utilization, potential repurposing of areas within the schools, and improvements in learning environments through technology and furniture upgrades.

Board members voiced concerns about making decisions that would only serve as temporary fixes. Kayla Sanstead stressed the importance of long-term solutions, stating, “I just have a hard time spending a lot of money on band-aids. So we need to look at the long-term. And education is number one.” This sentiment was echoed by others, including Terry Christenson, who pointed out the need to address major issues comprehensively rather than piecemeal.

Community involvement was identified as a crucial element in this process. There was consensus that engaging the community early and transparently would foster better support and more robust solutions. The board considered the possibility of public forums and feedback sessions to gather input and ensure that the community’s voice was integral to the decision-making process.

Brownlow informed the board about potential benefits of roof replacements on insurance premiums. Although replacing roofs would not entirely resolve insurance issues, it would certainly mitigate some risks and potentially lower premiums.

Financial strategies for funding these projects were also a focal point. The board recognized that any substantial investment would require careful financial planning, potentially involving bond measures. The agricultural-to-school credit was mentioned as a financial tool that could help alleviate the tax burden on the community while ensuring adequate funding for necessary improvements.

The WCA School Board acknowledged the complexity of the challenges ahead. The next steps involve setting up the task force, defining its scope, and initiating community engagement efforts. Detailed studies on educational adequacy and further cost analysis will provide a clearer picture of the path forward.

Ulrich summarized the board’s stance aptly: “We need to make sure we’re getting the most bang for our buck and moving ourselves as a whole district in the right direction.”

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