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Task force recommends building new high school

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River Falls, 54022

River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

The Hudson Facilities Planning Task Force delivered on six months of work at last week's Board of Education meeting with a recommendation that includes the construction of a new 10-12 high school and a new elementary school on properties owned by the district.

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The recommendation's estimated price tag is $66.5 million, which includes a $47 million 10-12 high school at the district's 100-acre property on County UU, $13.5 million for a new K-5 elementary school on district property south of I-94, $4.5 million for an addition to North Hudson Elementary School, $1.5 million for reconfiguration of the current high school for grades 8-9 and district office improvements.

The plan also notes a projected future expenditure of $17 million for additions at Houlton Elementary and a classroom and lab addition to the new high school if enrollment warrants. The task force said this recommendation compares to $82.5 million that would result if additions were made to existing buildings if no new schools were constructed. The task force included parents, teachers, at-large community members, school principals, a district administrator and school board members. They were assisted in the process by professional facilitator Linda Schroeder.

Members Tracy Habisch-Ahlin, Brian Bell and Butch Schultz made the task force presentation. Habisch-Ahlin explained to the board the steps the task force took to determine if current school facilities would meet future enrollment based on enrollment projections, a current space utilization study and tours of every school in the district.

According to projections by demographer Dr. Hazel Reinhart, the district will likely reach an enrollment of somewhere between 6,400 and 6,800 students by 2015. Habisch-Ahlin said all information gathered by the task force indicates that the district will continue to see increased enrollment and that the increases seen recently are not "a bubble" that will go away in the coming years. "We will not see the current enrollment numbers for a long time," said Habisch-Ahlin.

With regard to the district's current facilities, Habisch-Ahlin reported that the high school and middle school are both over capacity now by more than 212 students and the elementary level will be in the coming years.

Bell said it became clear early that the district was over capacity at the secondary level now and that they needed to look at options. He said that at one time the task force was looking at more than 35 options to address space needs across the district. Bell said the group divided the options into several "buckets," - keeping HHS as a 10-12 high school and constructing a new 8-9 building, building a new 9-12 high school, building a new 10-12 high school among others. Bell said the group established criteria on which to evaluate each option and narrowed the field to three finalists, finally settling on the option calling for a new elementary school, a new 10-12 high school and an addition at North Hudson Elementary School.

Butch Schultz told the board and audience at the meeting that at first he had his doubts that a group as large as the task force would be able to reach consensus on a recommendation. "But I came to realize that everyone there had a positive attitude toward our schools and a commitment to education. We had everybody from preschool mothers to gray-haired grandpas like myself, and everyone had their kids, grandkids or neighbor kids in their hearts."

Schultz said the task of narrowing the options and picking the one to recommend to the board was accomplished through thorough discussion and give-and-take among members, who were determined to come up with something that would solve space issues long term. Schultz said the district has been forced to use "Band-Aid" approaches at most of its buildings to meet space needs and likely will have to do some of that again before any new facilities are built. He mentioned the use of portable classrooms, zero-hour classes at the secondary level and redistricting.

Schultz told the audience that there is no bathroom connected to the nurse's station at North Hudson Elementary and a "bucket" is all that is available for sick students there. He mentioned the segregation of special education students at the middle school and told the story of one parent who did not want their regular education student's locker to be in the same area as "those kids."

Said Schultz, "To say we can do better is too weak. We must do better."

Board members took turns thanking the task force for its efforts and assuring them that the board would act on their recommendation. Task force co-chairman Roy Sjoberg told the board that task force members were prepared to assist the board in explaining their recommendation to the public.

The task force report is available by contacting the district at (715) 386-4901.

Meg Heaton can be reached at mheaton@rivertowns.net.

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