Herald and Journal, April 17, 2000

Facilities task force must pick new site for high school

By Andrea Vargo

Criteria. It's all about the criteria, architect Bob Abendroth told the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted Facilities Site Task Force Wednesday.

The task force has spent the last two years and over 100 meetings trying to determine if the residents of the district support a new high school and the location of that facility.

Frustration was evident in Abendroth's voice as he waved a copy of the community survey.

That sheet contained the criteria the task force gave Abendroth and Schroeder to use in their work.

Their assignment was to determine if the public felt the need for a new school facility, and where that facility could be located to pass a bond referendum.

Results of the survey indicate citizens feel there is a need for a new school, and they would support it wherever it is located, but the preferred spot is in between Howard Lake and Winsted, said Schroeder.

The feeling from the invited community leaders present at the meeting seemed to discount the usefulness of the survey to some extent, saying that it is not statistically valid.

Defending the survey, Randy Heuer, a school board representative on the task force, said "Our idea for the survey was to find out if there was any chance in hell (to get a new school)."

"We never had any money to get hard costs," said task force co-chair Jack Littfin.

Abendroth was able to get approximate costs for the new school, based on experience and current costs for certain items, and those costs were targeted at a school in the middle of Victor Township.

The recommendation of the task force was for the "neutral" site, between Howard Lake and Winsted.

No hard comparison costs, including ongoing transportation and maintenance costs, were provided for the rural site and the two city sites listed in the survey.

Dick Genty and several other people brought up cost as a big factor in whether or not a site is supported by voters.

The survey did not address cost factors. It only provided "soft" information, according to Schroeder.

Victor Township

Burton Horsch, Victor Township supervisor, told the task force that the township spent a lot of time and hard work to develop its land use plan.

It intends to stick to its plan, and will not allow a "cornfield" school.

Horsch said he always thought the cities would grow, and the supervisors have no problem with the school being located on the outskirts of either Winsted or Howard Lake.

Future plans

The task force continued to explain how it came to the conclusion that a middle location was the only place people would vote for a school.

Dave Sherman, Jerry Pettit, and others repeatedly asked why the Victor site was even being discussed, since the Victor Township board had already decided against that site.

They wanted to move on to discussion of the two city sites, but that only got as far as declarations from members of both communities that the "best" site would be supported by their voters.

Now, asked Abendroth, what does the task force intend to use for criteria to determine that "best" site - concentration of students or cost of the facility?

Competition for site

All present seemed to be concerned that if Winsted and Howard Lake get into a bidding war for the school site, it would turn the towns against each other.

"I think competition is generally good, but I don't want to see us throwing spears at each other. I live right in the middle, and I know where they would land," Heuer stated.

"If we do this (delay the construction of the school) for another year, it adds 15 percent to the construction costs and my taxes," he said.

Many expressed the opinion their communities will support a new school site wherever it might be, as long as it is the "best" site, and that seemed to include the cost factors of construction and maintenance.

Task force continues

Hoheisel asked the assembled task force if it would be willing to continue to serve in order to recommend another site to the school board.

To a person, they said they would be willing to continue to work on the issue.

Sean Gross sighed, "I heard the retirement benefits are good."

Reserve fund

Teacher and Waverly Mayor Charlie Bush asked the school board members why a $16 million-dollar school is being considered, when several hundred thousand dollars in cuts have to be made in order to balance the budget this year.

The district has $2 million in reserves, and yet rookie teachers are being let go, he said.

The district needs to keep some of the good, young teachers to replace the group that will retire in the next five years, Bush added.

"Who is going to staff the (new) building?" he asked.

The explanation for the reserve fund was that it came in the consolidation with Winsted several years ago, and that money is probably earmarked for one-time expenses with the new school, said Hoheisel.

"We need that balance to get us through those first few years (in a new school)," Hoheisel explained.

He said he felt it should not be spent on ongoing budget items.

As far as the cuts are concerned, Hoheisel said the district has low student/staff ratios, but this can't continue.

At one point, Dan Graham of Waverly said, "The facilities don't teach our children. The teachers do. I didn't mind a temporary building or a gymnasium classroom. It was the teacher who got me there. What are you going to do when all those teachers retire?"

Other questions and comments

- The district has possibly the largest percentage of open-enrolled students in the state, Schroeder said.

Bush asked if the parents of these children have been contacted to find out why they left the district?

Yes, said Heuer. The reasons were about evenly divided. Some left because of the facility, athletics, or negative perception of staff.

- What happens to the earnest money if the new school is not on the middle site?

Hoheisel said the district gets it back, minus any accumulated interest. The $10,000 is not lost to the district.

- What percentage will it take to pass a bond referendum? The answer is a simple 51 percent of those who vote, said Hoheisel.

- Dennis Bobrowske of Howard Lake said, "When I was sitting in Bush's classroom, we didn't get a new school. My son is a freshman, and we don't have a new school. I hope he won't be sitting here (as an adult) waiting for a new school."

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