Board agrees to narrow scope of renovation projects to $49.5 million plan with April 5 election as target date
Sharpening its focus on options for a referendum to upgrade school facilities, the Grafton School Board on Monday chose a $49.5 million proposal as the centerpiece of discussion and April 5, 2016, as the preferred election date.
Both decisions were made after Supt. Mel Lightner asked the board to take the next step in seeking community input on the possibility of holding a referendum.
“We’re engaging and soliciting feedback,” Lightner told the board.
“It doesn’t make sense to go to a referendum if the community says, ‘You’re off your rocker.’ It’s very important for us to continue to ask questions.”
In response to ongoing concerns with aging and deteriorating buildings and grounds, the board last year agreed to explore districtwide upgrade options. In addition to hiring a consulting firm to assess needs, the board formed the Citizens Facilities Committee, a group of school, village and town officials and residents that recommended focusing on two proposals.
One proposal calls for borrowing $49.5 million for renovations, including $32.1 million for upgrades to Grafton High School, which would be expanded to accommodate the addition of seventh and eighth grades in an adjoining middle school.
The combined-schools campus would have a variety of new classrooms, as well as a new gymnasium, soccer fields and varsity baseball and softball diamonds.
Other costs include $7 million to convert John Long Middle School for use as Grafton Elementary School, $5.5 million to upgrade Woodview Elementary School, $3.9 million to upgrade Kennedy Elementary School, $600,000 to demolish the current Grafton Elementary School next to the high school and $400,000 to upgrade district offices.
The other proposal calls for a $57.5 million project with most of the same improvements but also $13.2 million to build an elementary school that would replace Kennedy School, 1629 11th Ave. This plan eliminates $3.9 million in renovations at Kennedy but anticipates a need for additional money to buy land for a new school.
Lightner said most of the feedback he has received supports the $49.5 million base plan. He said studies indicate Kennedy School is structurally sound, making it well-suited for renovations.
“When you abandon a building, what do you do with that land?” Lightner asked.
Board member Clayton Riddle agreed.
“If Kennedy School is good for 40 to 50 more years with minimum upgrades, I’m in favor of that,” Riddle said.
Without taking a formal vote, the board agreed by consensus to focus on the $49.5 million proposal. Likewise, members said they support using the April 5 spring election rather than the Nov. 8 general election for a possible referendum.
Lightner said the November election might attract more voters, but waiting until then to hold the referendum would delay construction until 2017. If the referendum is approved in April, construction is expected to begin next August.
Board members noted that waiting several months would put the district at risk for higher interest rates on borrowing and less favorable construction bids.
“I’m not sure that Grafton Elementary School can wait that long,” Riddle said.
“The sooner we get started, the sooner we’ll have everything ready to go.”
Board President Terry Ziegler said delaying the vote until November might also cost the district potential students. Other area districts are already making plans to upgrades facilities, he noted.
“With open enrollment out there, other districts could have better facilities by building them earlier than us,” Ziegler said.
“It would be silly to wait until November,” board member Dan McKelvey said.
In reviewing a time line for referendum deliberations, Lightner said the district will use its website, the Chalkboard newsletter, a community survey, feedback sessions and local newspapers to inform residents and solicit public input.
The first of several fall feedback sessions will be Thursday, Oct. 22 (see related story), with others to be scheduled in the near future, officials said.
“The more we educate people about our needs, the more informed decision they can make,” Lightner said.
Based on feedback, the board is expected to decide whether to hold a referendum at its Jan. 11 meeting. The district has until Jan. 26 to file a referendum question with the Ozaukee County clerk’s office for an April 5 vote.
Grafton’s referendum discussion comes six months after Port Washington-Saukville School District voters approved a $49.4 million referendum to upgrade the high school and an elementary school.