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Ellsworth School Board hears plans for new Elementary school

If all goes as presented to the Ellsworth School Board Monday, a $29.4 million proposal to develop a local campus featuring a new elementary school will be voted on by district residents next February.

The two-story 108,000 square foot elementary school would be built east of the high school and just south of Hillcrest Elementary School, according to the presentation made by the construction manager, architects and educational planner retained by the district, all part of recommendations from the ad hoc facility committee. Improvements to the middle and high schools would include security measures involving those schools’ front entrances.

There would also be upgrades to the grounds surrounding the buildings, tying in the recently completed “Safe Routes to Schools” network with new accesses, adding recreation fields and new parking areas, separating bus loading zones from public drop-off/pick-ups, introducing new drainage sites and relocating the school bus garage.

Committee members, who began meeting in May of last year, heard about district facilities being examined for maintenance priorities and educational adequacy needs, the board was told. During the process, it was concluded the two existing elementary schools have an abundance of needs per square foot, placing them at the forefront.

Seven options for addressing them were considered, ranging from renovation as well as additions for either or both to one new structure on various sites around the high school-middle school complex, with the aforementioned location ultimately preferred, it was said. The two-story configuration was chosen because the 108,000 square feet said to be necessary would be too “spread out” if all on one level.

As planned, the new elementary building would house kindergarten through second grades on the lower floor and third through fifth grades on the upper floor, it was said. There would be “pods” for the various groups of grades, each containing bathrooms, lockers and a common room where projects by several of the classes could be undertaken. This is felt to make the transition from elementary to middle school easier for students because the latter already incorporates the pod format.

The new elementary school would also house the district’s early learning center, home to the 4YK program, and administration offices presently inside the high school, it was said. The EHS space presently dedicated to administration would be converted into a community room for public use. Hillcrest Elementary School would be torn down and other elementary-related facilities owned by the district likely sold.

Due to the move of the fifth grade back to an elementary facility from the middle school, the latter would resume a more ideal ratio of square footage per student as intended when it was built in the mid-1990s, it was said. Another advantage to the proposal emphasized was a “six-figure” savings in busing costs, as double routes would no longer operate--all students (regardless of age) would be transported to the Ellsworth campus once in the morning and away from there in the evening.

Regarding security at EHS and EMS, better visibility from their respective offices to their main entrances would be achieved, it was said. At the former, front doors would be shifted inward, the main office opened up and an elevator equipment room presently blocking line-of-sight moved to be adjacent to the elevator. At the latter, a larger covered vestibule would be built on the front and the office opened up, taking advantage of space presently occupied by a concession stand.

The tax impact of the favored plan on a $100,000 property has been placed at $127 per year, figuring a 20-year borrowing schedule and an interest rate intentionally set high to be conservative at 4.75 percent. Superintendent Barry Cain said the timing of the project is important when recognizing a lot of the district’s existing debt load is expiring right now.

In addition to this facilities referendum envisioned for next February’s primary election, another referendum to exceed the district’s revenue cap was briefly discussed. Present authorization to exceed that cap for the past three years will end and school officials plan to seek new authority from residents for three more years of up to $800,000 annually on a non-recurring basis, Cain said.

Among the next steps toward making the proposal a reality is developing a suggested communications plan for the public.

For more please read the Oct. 16 print version of the Herald. 

Bill Kirk

Bill Kirk was editor of the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth, from 1988 to February, 2015 and is now on staff as a reporter. He holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He previously worked in the media distribution department at the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus and is past editor of The Tri-County News in Osseo, Wisconsin.

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