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Prescott Referendum Buzz: Why build a high school now?

By Roger Hulne

Prescott School Superintendent

PRESCOTT--A school referendum for a new building creates a lot of buzz and the April 1 Prescott referendum is no exception.

Last time, I discussed the cost of the proposal, including the impact on taxes and how the proposed solution will benefit the entire community. This time, I will answer some questions that have surfaced about building a high school now.

This referendum is presented in three questions on the April 1 ballot:

1. The first question requests authorization to borrow funds, not to exceed $27,980,000, to build and equip a new high school on property the district owns east of Dexter Street.

2. The second question requests authorization to borrow funds, not to exceed $4,260,000 to construct and equip an auditorium onto the new high school.

3. Question 3 requests authorization to exceed the revenue limit by $110,000 a year for four years beginning with the 2016-2017 school year for a portion of the new high school operating expenses.

Why a high school?

Over the past 15 years, a number of volunteer committees have researched several proposals to solve space needs. The recent facility committee volunteers looked at the pros and cons of all of those past proposals--from putting additions on existing buildings to building an elementary school to the current proposal of building a new high school.

Although there are cheaper short term solutions, the one continually surfacing as the best long-term solution to address space needs across all grade levels was building a high school and reallocating grades between the existing buildings. This solution keeps grade levels together, utilizes the community investment in existing buildings and provides a long-term solution for many years with flexibility for future growth.

Ironically, a similar solution was proposed and defeated 15 years ago. Since then, many costly short term fixes have been implemented, while the space constraints continue to increase.

Why now?

The space needs in Prescott are visibly evident. Children are taught in portable classrooms. Instruction occurs in hallways. Closets have been converted to workspaces. Off-site space is rented for special programming. Malone is over capacity and the middle school will exceed capacity in about two years. The high school will reach capacity in a few short years.

Enrollment has grown by nearly 200 students since 1999. Based on an independent study by the Applied Population Laboratory at UW-Madison, Prescott can expect continued growth of almost two percent per year. Within 10 years, the district is projected to add over 200 more students. Those projections were calculated before UNI Foods announced it will bring 300 new jobs to this area!

With the addition of a large, new business to the area, it is very important to plan for the potential of new families and children joining our district. And there are many positive reasons to consider building now:

--Interest rates are at near-historic lows;

--Construction costs are still very affordable;

--Prescott School District is financially sound;

--Educational programming, including special education and career training, often requires more space than in the past;

--Enrollment history and trends show continued growth and constraints on space;

--New business development points to growth and vitality in our area.

There are always many questions and everyone is encouraged to seek answers at two upcoming community forums: next Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Malone and Thursday, March 20, at 7 p.m. at the middle school.

All planning documents, including past facility research and recommendations, are also available on the district website at I encourage everyone to check that out for a better understanding of the issues, the research and the proposal. You can also contact the district office at 715-262-5782 with questions.

Watch for the next Superintendent’s Scoop for answers to more common questions.