Herald JournalHerald Journal, March 17, 2003

Remodeling looks like favored plan for HLWW facilities

By Lynda Jensen

Remodeling appeared to be favored by a majority of the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted school board for its long-term site plans during a special meeting last Monday.

Most of the board members felt that a variation of the "red option," which appeared to be favored by the public, would solve immediate space-issues by making additions to the buildings at Waverly and Winsted.

The red option would expand both the Waverly and Winsted buildings by adding classes there, but include remodeling only for the Howard Lake building, Supt. George Ladd said.

In Waverly, the building would be remodeled and expanded to accept grades kindergarten through fifth grade. Currently, it handles students fourth through sixth grade.

Two grades would be added to Winsted Elementary, from kindergarten through third grade to kindergarten through fifth grade.

This would nearly double Winsted's capacity, Ladd noted.

For the Howard Lake building, existing facilities would be upgraded for grades 6-8, 9-12 as well as remodeling the kindergarten through third grade rooms for middle school use.

This would not include large scale structural remodeling, Ladd said.

It's likely that a hybrid of the existing options will end up being used, Ladd commented, following the meeting.

The remodeling would buy time and allow some healing to take place, following division suffered during the past few years over the three communities fighting over which would host the new high school site, according to discussion amongst the board members.

The idea is not shared, however, and two board members, John Lideen and Al Doering, pressed the board to move forward with purchasing land.

Both Charlie Borrell and Jim Fowler, who are not generally known to readily agree with each other, felt that the district needed to be unified again ­ not pressing the public so soon for a land choice, although the red option does contain language about a future purchase for athletic fields and a new school, down the road.

"We need to allow some healing and pull the district back together," Fowler said. "(otherwise) it's going to be a blood bath."

"I think we should take it in steps," Borrell agreed.

Lideen noted that the red option did little toward issues such as extra curricular activities. "The biggest thing I heard is build." he said.

Resident Rob Merritt pointed out that the auditorium is undersized and the red option would not help this.

There is also the need for a bus garage, noted architect Lee Meyer. However, Meyer noted that even choosing land for a bus garage might set people off again.

A bus garage would be nice, but Borrell questioned its immediate need.

Borrell likened the bus garage to a farmer's machine shed.

"I farmed for 18 years without a machine shed," Borrell said. Did his equipment wear down faster? Yes, he said. But he got through.

Board members asked Ladd how much wear and tear the busses are experiencing, and Ladd answered the usual that is expected.

"I cannot see anything else but adding or remodeling," Zimmermann said.

Borrell reminded the board that it should remember the goal, which is to make a better district for students.

Raymond pointed out that the majority of people would probably approve remodeling.

Doering rejected the idea of healing, saying that the board was being unwise to put off purchasing land because of rising costs.

"Granted we have a lot of challenges," Doering said. But to put off buying land "to heal a few people" would not be in the district's best interests, Doering said.

Lideen said the board should simply purchase land and not dedicate its purpose.

"Not even the site has to be chosen," Lideen said. If the district decided to use the land for other reasons, it could simply sell it off later, he said.

Once the land is purchased, it will drive a spike between the communities, Board Member Ken Zimmermann said. "It would screw us all up, and I don't want that."

"We can only afford three buildings," Zimmermann told Lideen. "Which school are you going to close?"

Fowler noted that if the district waits, perhaps new residential development would even change where the center of the district is located.

"Why have one and a half or two percent of the cost (of the project) drive the decision today?" Fowler asked, saying that land would only be a small part of a referendum for a new school.

Board member Charles Weber pointed out that land purchase didn't always mean the district would make money. "We could lose, too," he said.

"It would kick us back to ground zero," Weber said.

The board also wrestled with what options to add to the red option, since if the cost reaches more than 60 percent of a new building, the Department of Education would prohibit the work.

In addition, there was discussion about a campus style arrangement where the middle school, high school, athletic facilities would be in one location.

No decisions were made.

Operating referendum

As predicted by former Supt. Riley Hoheisel more than a year ago, the board also discussed the possibility of asking for an operating referendum.

The referendum is spurred by double digit insurance increases, and expected cuts from the state; but is mainly geared for the following:

· technology

· continued class reduction in the face of rising costs in other areas

· state budget cuts

HLWW escaped from asking voters for an operating referendum last year, unlike most other school districts, but now may end up asking the question on the 2004 ballot, Ladd said.

Although the district currently has $1.2 million reserve, this will be largely depleted in about three years, according to the auditor.

If the district asks in the fall of 2004, it will impact taxes collected for 2005, Ladd said. If this fails, the board can ask again in the following year.

This will prevent any financial troubles such as those experienced in the distant past, Ladd said.

For the coming year, the district expects to have a shortfall of $98,000 in its general fund, Ladd said. This is mainly due to insurance increases, the rising cost of fuel, and changes in the pension adjustment formula by the state.

"If there are retirements, this will be less," Ladd said of the shortfall.

The preliminary budget holds expenses flat, which is virtually impossible to do, Ladd said.

The governor's budget itself does not reflect three percent inflation, which translates into a great deal of money, he said.

When asked if there would be any cuts made in the budget, Ladd said no.


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