District makes the case for the referendumThe Hudson Board of Education and school district administration made their case for the purchase of the St. Croix Meadows dog track at an information session last week at Willow River Elementary School.
By: Meg Heaton, Hudson Star-Observer
The Hudson Board of Education and school district administration made their case for the purchase of the St. Croix Meadows dog track at an information session last week at Willow River Elementary School.
The question is being put to district residents in the April 3 election. The purchase price for the land and the buildings on it is $8.25 million.
Despite a small turnout for the second of three such presentations, Superintendent Mary Bowen-Eggebraaten and school board president Barb Van Loenen explained the need for a new secondary school and why St. Croix Meadows was the right place to start.
The presentation began with the growing enrollment in the Hudson School District which has risen by 28 percent since 2000. Kindergarten classes have grown at an even higher rate — 55 percent since 2000. The class of 2011 started kindergarten with 262 students and graduated with 391. This year all grade levels, k-8, are over 400 students, ranging in size from 403-443.
The greatest enrollment impact is on the secondary level. The Hudson Middle School is 169 students over capacity. It is the largest single middle school in the state. To accommodate the students, the school has taken over three classrooms in the adjacent Hudson Prairie Elementary School and more than a dozen teachers are “on carts,” moving from classroom to classroom.
Hudson High School is near capacity (1,680) this year and is expected to exceed it next year and for the foreseeable future. Enrollment projections put enrollment at 2,000 plus by 2019. Bowen-Eggebraaten said the school has some “big gaps” when it comes to providing a 21st century education for HHS students. She pointed to small classrooms, inadequate science labs and art rooms and seriously crowded common areas.
Van Loenen said the board has been considering what to do about more secondary space for several years and began the process by setting some criteria including the number of useable acres, 65 plus, accessibility within the district and access to sewer and water.
While they did consider the track early on, they “walked away” because the initial asking price was too high. Negotiations were resumed when the sellers agreed to come down in price.
Van Loenen said that not only did the property meet the size and sewer and water criteria, it also had other benefits including adequate traffic access and an existing facility that could be “repurposed” as a school. Architects and engineers have said that building was well built and is essentially sound. They estimated that 90,000 square feet of the main building can be remodeled as a school and that the property has more than enough acreage for the additional space required. Further, they indicate that between $4.8 to 7.4 million in construction costs on the project can be saved by reusing the existing structures and recycling other materials from the site.
The district also commissioned a new appraisal of the property which placed its current value at $16.8 million, twice the district’s purchase price. “As a community we are getting a great value,” said Van Loenen.
As for the financing, the purchase would cost district taxpayers 9 cents per $1,000 of property value or $18 a year on a $200,000 house. With regard to the cost of getting a secondary school up and running on the land, with retiring debt in the next several years, the district will have the capacity to borrow up to $40 million without increasing taxes.
Bowen-Eggebraaten said they have been asked why there is so little information available about what a new school on the property would look like and what it would cost. She said the process of deciding what a new secondary school would be like on the site will require more time, a minimum of six months and will include broad-based community input. The sellers were agreeable to holding the property for the district until after the April referendum but were not willing to hold off any longer. The superintendent said that if the referendum to purchase the property passes, a construction referendum could be before voters sometime between April and December 2013. “We need at least six months to determine the best possible plan that voters will support.”
If the referendum does not pass, Bowen-Eggebraaten said the district would be forced to look at non-building solutions. Those could include raising the current class sizes, extending the school year and adopting multi-track scheduling with students attending school year round with several shorter vacation breaks.
Questions from the audience of around a dozen ranged from a complaint that the district was asking for more from taxpayers to a pledge from a parent who said she would tell her kids to “suffer through it if it meant they would get a new high school.”
Retired teacher Dolly Qualls questioned if the 20-year-old facility would be consistent with the district’s commitment to sustainable and “green” construction.
Bowen-Eggebraaten said that there are standards for the repurposing, reuse and recycling of existing buildings and that all efforts would be made to meet those standards on the project. She used the example of the boilers currently installed at the track. She said that while the heating system would likely be replaced by a more efficient system, one or more of the boilers could be retained as a backup on very sub-zero days.
School board candidate Sandy Gehrke asked if the district had considered building a smaller, grade 8-9 building on the property the district owns on County UU. Financial Services Director Tim Erickson said the city of Hudson would not annex the land to allow for city sewer and water because it doesn’t’ meet city criteria or state guidelines.
When asked what the district will do in the meantime about overcrowding, Bowen-Eggebraaten said it would likely be necessary to hire more teachers and continue to look for ways to utilize existing space, although those options appear to be nearly exhausted.
A third presentation will be made on March 27 from 7-8:30 p.m. at River Crest Elementary School. Information about the referendum and school enrollment is also available on the district’s website at www.hudson.k12.wi.us. To speak to the superintendent, call (715) 377-3702. Contact information for school board members is listed on the district’s website.