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Hulne: New high school would solve Prescott's space issues throughout district

PRESCOTT – Roger Hulne has said more than once he is glad to be a Superintendent of a school district with increasing enrollment, like he is in Prescott, rather than one in a declining enrollment.

That doesn’t mean an increasing enrollment district doesn’t have issues, which Prescott certainly does.

At the top of the list is space, specifically at Malone Elementary, where currently, closets have been converted to classroom space, instruction is being done in hallways, students are being taught in portable classrooms, and lunch starts at 10:50 a.m.

“We did an enrollment study in 2008 for the next five years and it ended up being off by five students,” Hulne said, responding to whether or not the District was caught off-guard by the enrollment boom at Malone. “We just haven’t been able to find the right solution yet.”

The District believes this time they have and on April 1 are asking the voters to approve a referendum for a new high school, auditorium and levy override. The new high school would open in the fall of 2016 on a 90-acre site east of Dexter Street, or south of the roundabout.

“I understand people not wanting to see their property taxes go up,” Hulne said. “But, at the same time, it’s getting expensive to keep kicking the problem down the road.”

The new high school would house students in grades 9-12 along with the District’s alternative high school. The current high school would be the middle school, grades 6-8. The middle school would be grades 4-5 and Malone would be K-3.

Hulne said the recommendation came from a facilities committee, made up of community members and school staff. They were tasked with finding a solution that would provide an answer for the next 15-20 years.

“They felt this was the best option,” he said, which the voters are being asked to approve. He explained Malone couldn’t support a second story addition, there is a lack of green space at the Middle School and outdoor physical education classes are across the street in a City Park.

“They felt the buildings were in good shape, but it was decided to use them in a different way,” he continued.

Like Hulne said, this isn’t the first time the District has tried addressing their space issues. In 1999, a referendum was asked for a new high school near the intersection of County Highway F and State Highway 29. That failed.

In 2003, District voters were asked to approve construction of a new high school in what is now the Eagle Ridge Business Park. That failed. In 2009, the question was asked about constructing an intermediate school for fourth and fifth graders on the current high school site. That failed.

Hulne believes the location of the proposed high school has several benefits previous sites didn’t. For example, it’s within City limits, meaning access to city utilites and proximity to U.S. Highway 10.

Hulne projected, if approved, 200 students would be leaving Malone, freeing up plenty of space within the school. The “old” Middle School would have plenty of room, he said, leaving opportunities for Community Education or Senior Citizen activities. There would not be a need for a full-time principal, he said, more than likely a teaching principal.

The “new” Middle School, Hulne continued, would be a nice long-term solution with a large space for their Technical Education and Physical Education departments. The “new” High School will be a two-story building designed for 500 students, currently Prescott has 360. He added athletic fields would be built behind the high school, but they would be for practice only, as the district is very happy with the current competitive fields.

If the auditorium question is approved, Hulne believes it would benefit the entire community as it would function as a “dedicated performing arts space”. Currently, Baldwin-Woodville, Hudson and River Falls are the only known area Districts that have an auditorium.

“I know a lot of schools wish they had one,” he said.

The 360 students in the high school are only expected to increase. Hulne said in two years the current Middle School will be over capacity due to Malone’s growth and students from St. Joseph’s Catholic School. Population growth based on research by the Applied Population Laboratory out of the UW-Madison, show Prescott is expected to grow approximately two percent over the next 10 years in students Kindergarten through grades 12.

And the study was done before the news earlier this year of United Natural Foods, Inc., constructing a distribution center in the Eagle Ridge Business Park, which is expected to bring over 300 jobs over the next three years.

If it fails

Hulne explained the possible options if the referendum failed.

Larger class sizes

More portable classrooms at Malone and Middle School

Continuing spending rent for off-site locations

Adjust the school calendar to create split programming or year-round school

Reduce programming opportunities

The District has done two surveys over the years and while there has been more support than opposed, it’s the undecided (last results were at 18 percent) that will determine the results.

Therefore, the District believes it’s done what it can to make the voter an informed voter on April 1.

“We’ve basically spent the last year communicating,” Hulne said, referencing to public forums and talking to community groups when given the opportunity.

Coming tomorrow: The financial impact of the referendum. 

Jason Schulte

Jason Schulte is a reporter for the New Richmond News since February 2015. Prior to that he spent eight years at the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth. His duties with the News will include covering news out of Hammond and Roberts along with action from St. Croix County court system. He lives in Roberts. 

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