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$17 million school project to vote April 7
First, fourth grades proposed to move to Westview
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Platteville Public Schools voters will decide the fate of the proposed $17 million school building project April 7.

The School Board voted to send the project to referendum Monday night.

The project is substantially different in at least one way from the project concepts introduced last year.
The project will now move two grades, not just one, to Westview Elementary School — fourth grade, now at Platteville Middle School, and first grade, now at Neal Wilkins Early Learning Center.

That will leave Neal Wilkins with Early Childhood and four- and five-year-old kindergarten, and lead to the future possibility of the school district’s “move to a three-building district at some point in the future” and closing Neal Wilkins, though that is “not in our 20-year plan,” said district superintendent Connie Valenza.

The project includes $2.52 million in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math upgrades at PMS and Platteville High School, $2 million in office and entrance renovations at all four schools, and $2.1 million in maintenance and “priority” items nearing the end of their life expectancy at all four buildings.

The project would be funded by $15 million in borrowing over 20 years, $1 million from the school district’s fund balance, and $1.62 million from the school district’s maintenance budget over several years.

Given that the last payments on the late 1990s building projects will be made next year, the proposed project could be done with small impact on property taxes. The school district’s current mil rate of $10.73 per $1,000 assessed valuation includes $1.59 per $1,000 for debt service, totaling about $238.50 on a house assessed at $150,000.

“There’s a possibility that our operating levy could go up,” though the overall levy will be “probably somewhat the same,” said Valenza.

The Westview project now includes a two-story 12-classroom addition on the southeast side of the current building, with a new gymnasium on the west side of the building. First and second grades would be assigned to current spaces, with third-graders on one floor and fourth-graders on the other floor of the addition. As with the original plan, the project, now estimated at $9.7 million, includes a new vehicle entrance from Camp Street, including expanded parking and a separate bus/vehicle dropoff.

Instead of adding classrooms at Neal Wilkins, Valenza said the existing classrooms will be reduced in number, but enlarged. Though she said it is “not in our 20-year plan” to close it, “Neal Wilkins is probably not a 100-year school.” That project totals about $300,000.

Valenza said moving two grades to Westview instead of one is “more expensive, but it sets up our buildings in the future” to use three schools, meaing “the overall operating [expense] would be lower.”

Valenza added that “I think most people would agree that two years [at Neal Wilkins], two years [at Westview] and two years is not ideal.”

The STEM work is unspecified. Valenza said that neither PMS nor PHS have been upgraded since they opened — in the case of PMS, the newest portion after the original middle school was demolished — and PHS “looks very much like it was built in 1968,” she said.

PPS surveyed more than 200 school district parents, staff, high school students and other school district residents this summer. Moving fourth grade to Westview was the clear favorite over two other options — moving seventh and eighth grade to Platteville High School and consolidating all the elementary grades at either Westview or Neal Wilkins and closing the other grade school, or improving all four buildings and leaving the grades where they are now.

Platteville Middle School originally held the fifth through eighth grades when its new portion opened in 1997. Valenza said the fourth grade moved to PMS when the school district closed O.E. Gray Learning Center.

Valenza said PMS “wasn’t configured for those grade levels,” which was complicated further by an influx of students when St. Mary’s School closed in 2012.

The study by Plunkett Raysich Architects of Milwaukee study noted that Westview, which opened in 1966, was five students over its 234-student capacity when the study was done in the 2013–14 school year. Neal Wilkins, which opened in 1979, and Platteville Middle School were below capacity but above “target” enrollment.

PHS opened in 1967, and was renovated in 1997. O.E. Gray opened in 1953, but the school district stopped holding classes there in 2008. The building was the home of St. Mary’s School between 2008 and 2012.