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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Coleman, Peshtigo Districts Vote April 3 On School Referendums

Issue Date: March 29, 2018

There are few contests for political office on the ballots for the elections on Tuesday, April 3, but a some important referendums are coming up, particularly for voters in Peshtigo and Coleman school districts.

A majority of school board members in both districts have said they are hoping voters will approve multi-million bond issues to finance projects they and citizen study committee members feel are necessary for the well being of their district and the students being educated there.

Statewide, voters are being asked to approve a Constitutional amendment that would eliminate the elected position of Wisconsin State Treasurer. This proposal has had support from both houses of the state legislature, but is strongly opposed by Wisconsin Towns Association (WTA) and several other groups.

Part of the WTA opposition stems from the treasurer being one of three elected state officials who serves on the Board of Commissioners for Wisconsin State Land Commission and decides how their property and finances will be handled, and this in turn affects local municipalities and school districts, particularly in regard to library funding.

Voters in Peshtigo School District are once again being asked to approve a bond issue to build a totally new high school/middle school. If approved, it will be built on a 27-acre property adjacent to the Elementary Learning Center campus that the district purchased for that purpose a few years ago.

Amount of bonds sought for the basic building, with a two station gym and all site improvements, is $29,960,000. A second question on the referendum ballot asks voters to authorize an additional $950,000 in bonds to build and and equip an additional one-station gym for the new building. If both referendum questions are approved, the new school would have three full gyms in addition to other spaces for regular classes, including new and modern shop and science facilities. There will be no auditorium built at this time, even if both referendum questions are approved.

The Coleman School District referendum is also in two parts. The first question asks voters to authorize bonds totaling up to $10,850,000 for the purpose of paying costs of improvements and upgrades to the District's existing school facility including building infrastructure, life safety and energy efficiency upgrades, secure entrances, classroom, gymnasium, kitchen and cafeteria upgrades, an additional high school cafeteria and purchase of equipment related to the proposed projects.

The second resolution, if approved, would allow issuing an additional $2,980,000 in bonds to pay for upgrades to the high school technical education, science and agricultural lab facilities, upgrades to art, math, computer aided design and miscellaneous core classrooms, along with equipment related to the projects.

School board members and administrative teams of both districts have been distributing information in support of their proposed projects. In each case, the referendum proposals were developed on the basis of recommendations from volunteer community study committees after considering various options and looking at community survey results.

Coleman's only current long-term debt will be fully repaid this year. A new bond issue at this time would have less impact on property taxes than it would at any other time, since levy amounts that have been used to pay off the old debt would be used toward paying off the new one. The board has been planning for several years to do some improvements at this time, and plans for the project are based on recommendations of the survey and the citizens study committee, which met monthly for nearly a year.

If voters approve the Peshtigo referendum on April 3, nuts and bolts design plans for the new school will be drawn for the building be constructed on the site located across Trout Creek from the existing Middle School/High School and immediately west of the Elementary Learning Center campus. The district purchased the property from the Larry Zak and John Gard families in June of 2015 as the location of the new school they hoped to build at that time. A referendum that would have authorized borrowing $32 million for the new school failed by 64 votes in November of 2015, and subsequent referendum attempts failed in April and November of 2016.

With building needs still unmet after the final 2016 referendum, a new Citizens Advisory Committee was organized and held its first meeting in February of 2017. After visiting other schools, studying various options and getting results of a community survey, they asked Sommerville and Miron to refine the existing building renovation plan and develop a new school plan to reduce cost without sacrificing academic spaces. After analyzing both options the committee agreed the best investment for the future of the district would be to build new.

Survey results had shown that 56 percent of the district's non-parent, non-staff respondents believed the district should go to referendum, but they did not want to spend $34 million. As a plans for the new building were scaled back, cutting the cost from over $34 million to less than $30 million, but with the two-station gym, not three. There were almost 19,000 square feet of adjustments and cost revisions before coming down to the proposed $29,900,000 plan. The committee, and eventually the school board, then agreed to give voters the option of financing a third gym as an add on if the new building is approved.


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