Poll to ask about new vs. current Port High location without a site or guarantee it would be in city
A survey commissioned by the Port Washington-Saukville School District will be pointed in its questions about whether to build additions to elementary schools but noticeably
vague when it comes to what could be the most expensive undertaking on a multi-million dollar list of school projects.
Why? Because school officials have no idea where the district would build a new Port Washington High School, although one administrator noted it wouldn’t necessarily be in
the City of Port Washington.
“If the survey shows that the feeling of the community is we should build a new high school, we would look at sites that could accommodate such a school throughout the
district, which in addition to the City of Port Washington includes the towns of Port, Grafton and Saukville and the Village of Saukville,” Supt. Michael Weber said.
The Port Washington-Saukville School Board took its first look Monday at a survey intended to gauge whether residents support a plan to build additions to elementary
schools and either demolish and rebuild most of Port Washington High School on site or construct a new school elsewhere.
The survey, which will be mailed to district residents shortly after the board approves a final version on Sept. 8, is to be used by the board to plan at least one, maybe two
referendums, seeking funding for what could be the most ambitions school improvement initiative in the history of the district.
Missing yet are cost estimates for the projects and their related property tax impacts, which will be included in the final survey.
The survey questions related to building additions to Lincoln, Dunwiddie and Saukville elementary schools are straightforward because there is only one option proposed for
As for the high school, however, there are two options, either of which would be the most expensive aspect of the district-wide initiative.
One option is clear — demolish and rebuild about 70% of Port Washington High School on its current site at 427 W. Jackson St. atop what is commonly referred to as high
Matt Wolfert, president of Bray Architects, the firm hired by the district to conduct a facilities study, called it the “like-new high school option.”
“We want people to get the sense that we can rebuild on this site,” he told the board. “Yes, it would be complex, but in the end, if that’s what the community supports, it is
The other option for the high school is anything but clear. The survey will ask if residents support the construction of a new school at a yet-to-be-identified location.
“It seems obvious that if it’s going to be a new site, it isn’t going to be in the City of Port Washington,” board member Sara McCutcheon said. “I would think people taking
the survey would want to know that.”
The district has not studied potential high school sites but officials have talked about a handful of parcels, including undeveloped land on the far south side of the City of Port
Washington off Highway C. The land was annexed into the city years ago for the failed VK Development subdivision, but utilities such as sewer and water are not yet extended
to the property and there are no sidewalks. In addition, there are questions about whether a school would mesh with the city’s plan for residential and commercial development
School officials have also mentioned as a possible school site a Town of Port Washington parcel off Highway LL known as the Simplicity testing grounds, which is now owned
by Milwaukee-based Briggs & Stratton. But Port Washington Director of Planning and Development Randy Tetzlaff has said that because the property does not abut the city, it
would be difficult to annex. Even if it was incorporated into the city, extending sewer, water and sidewalks would be so costly as to be impractical.
In addition to the cost of extending utilities to these sites, the district would have the added expense of having to bus more students because walking to school would be
considered hazardous under state law. Director of Business Services Jim Froemming estimated the additional busing cost to be $150,000 annually.
“If you choose a new site, you’re going to have mounting costs of operation at the school,” McCutcheon said. “Don’t residents need to know that going into the survey?”
Wolfert and school officials said that there’s a risk of confusing residents if more information is added to the survey. A second survey could be conducted if more feedback
about a new school is needed, they said.
The survey will include a cost estimate for a new high school at an undetermined site that will have an allowance for property acquisition and utility extensions, Wolfert said.
A specific location and cost would be needed before the district went to referendum.
The other option — rebuilding on the current site in the heart of Port Washington — is being called the “like new option” because it would create new classrooms, science
labs, an art studio, cafeteria, library and arena-style competition and auxiliary gyms separated by wrestling, weight training and fitness rooms.
The parts of the school that would be renovated rather than rebuilt are the Washington Heights building on the north end of the school, the technology education wing to the
west of it and the auditorium at the southeast end of the school.
Plumbing, heating and electrical systems in the school, which dates to 1931 and has grown over the years through a series of additions, would be replaced. Antiquated safety
systems such as fire alarms, exit lighting and the backup generator, bathrooms that do not comply with Americans with Disabilities standards and the roof would be addressed.
The three-year project would be done in phases so students could remain in the building. Trailers would possibly be used for offices during the project.
The survey notes that while the current high school site is “relatively small based on modern standards ... the location is excellent for many of our families and the property
includes a nostalgic football field.”
The questionnaire will first ask whether respondents favor rebuilding and renovating the current high school or building a new school at a different site.
It will then ask if they would support a referendum seeking a specific amount of money for each option.
While the high school plan is being driven by an old, inefficient building in need of renovation, space is the problem at the district’s three elementary schools, all of which are
at capacity, school officials said.
The plan calls for constructing gyms and community rooms at Lincoln and Saukville elementary schools, as well as renovating the existing buildings. Parking lots would also
The addition of the gyms and community rooms would free current gym space for classrooms and other learning areas.
“It looks like this plan is about building gyms, but it’s really about providing more educational space,” Wolfert said. “It’s important to emphasize that point because there will
be a perception that this is about gyms.”
The addition at Dunwiddie Elementary School would provide a new, secure entrance to the building, community room and classrooms. An additional parking lot would also be
At Thomas Jefferson Middle School, a new, secure entrance to the Aquatic Center would be built. Because the project is relative small — less than $1 million, Wolfert said —
it will not be included on the survey.
While all the additions would provide additional educational space, they are also designed for public use to meet the growing need for indoor recreational space and
community meeting rooms, Wolfert said.
In addition to asking about each project, the survey will attempt to gauge whether residents favor proceeding with all the projects at one time or a phased approach, which
would require multiple referendums.
“Maybe residents will support doing all the projects at once, but I’d be surprised,” Wolfert said. “Most communities typically don’t favor that,” Wolfert said.
The survey, which is being conducted by the Slinger-based School Perceptions, will be mailed to all district residents next month and can be completed online using a access
number specific to each survey. Hard copies of the survey can be dropped off at school offices.
Results of the survey are expected by early October.
School officials have said a referendum could be on the February or April ballot.