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School board's priority is more elementary space

The Hudson Board of Education has placed the need for more space at its elementary schools at the top of the district's priority list. The question now is how to address that need -- by adding on to existing schools or building a new one.

At its annual work session held July 18 at Camp St. Croix, the board heard a presentation by Superintendent Mary Bowen-Eggebraaten that detailed the pros and cons of several options to address current and future space needs at the elementary level. According to the most recent projections, enrollment will exceed the space available by the 2008-09 school year. The board requested that the superintendent review all the information gathered to date including the revised school capacity numbers, current enrollment projections, the options explored by the facilities task force and any other options she deemed feasible (see charts that accompany this story).

In an interview after the session, Bowen-Eggebraaten said the board charged her to further explore two of the four options she presented at the session, including the potential cost of each. Those options are:

  • To construct a four-section K-5 elementary school for 588 students on land owned by the district on County UU or on Coulee Trail (formerly County FF).
  • To construct additions at North Hudson Elementary and Houlton Elementary, making both schools four-section K-5 schools of 588 students each (four-section schools have four classrooms at each grade level).

    The advantages and disadvantages of each option were presented to the board and are reprinted here (in accompanying charts). The new school option, according to the superintendent, would address the district's projected enrollment need through the year 2013-14. The additions option would see the district through 2011-12, with some space available by 2007-08.

    A new school would take approximately two years to build after the passage of a bond referendum. The cost of a new school is estimated to be around $14.5 million plus site development. Neither property has city sewer or water.

    Bowen-Eggebraaten also presented plans that would call for the construction of either a kindergarten or fifth-grade center and make all district elementaries K-4. Neither she nor the board liked the plans because they would require additional classroom space at the schools to meet the enrollment, even with the removable of the grade 5 or kindergarten classes. Both centers would mean long bus rides for those students, increased transportation costs and another school transition.

    The board dismissed the purchase of portable classrooms because of the number that would be necessary (nine double-wide or 18 single classrooms, 441 seats -- the equivalent of an entire new school), the lack of common space such as computer labs, media centers or cafeteria, and the associated costs.

    The option of multi-track or year-round school was also dismissed because of scheduling issues (families with students at different levels would have multiple schedules and different vacations), along with an increase in operating, maintenance and transportation costs. Also, the year-round option would work logistically in only two of the district's five elementaries.

    The board also rejected any increase in maximum recommended class size as a way to address the space needs.

    The superintendent said the board has decided to focus on the two options they feel provide a "long-term solution" to the need for elementary school space. Both options, building or adding on, also preserve the maximum school size, 600 or less, which she believes is necessary to ensure a sound learning environment.

    "Experience has taught us that anything bigger than 600 has a developmental impact on students. When a school is too big for the younger students to find the office or to see an adult they recognize, it impacts their learning. Rock and Prairie are already near that maximum. The only schools we can consider making bigger are Houlton and North Hudson."

    Bowen-Eggebraaten said the board was presented another option by resident Steve Hermsen advocating for the use of vouchers or tax credits for parents who wish to send their children to non-public schools. Hermsen's proposal is modeled after the program used in the Milwaukee area. More information about the proposal will appear in next week's Star-Observer.x

    School board president Dan Tjornehoj said the board now wants the superintendent to get more information and more specific on the two building options including the potential cost of each. He said board members needed more cost information before they could commit to either option and move ahead on a timetable.

    Board Vice President Dick Muenich, who also co-chaired the facilities task force, said he understands why the board has chosen to make the elementary space need its immediate priority. "We know the high school is over capacity, but we also know that we are in a plateau period where for the next four to five years things should stay static when it comes to class size. It isn't an ideal situation, but we will make it work. It makes sense to address the elementary problem now."

    The board did set aside $4.5 million from the general fund earlier this year that could be used to help fund a building project.

    Bowen-Eggebraaten said the issue will be part of next month's board meeting and that it is likely that additional board meetings will be scheduled in the coming months until some action is taken.

    For more information contact Bowen-Eggebraaten at (715) 386-4901. The district's Web site can be found at

  • Meg Heaton

    Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

    (715) 808-8604