By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
$600,000 approved for remodeling DHS Labs
Placeholder Image

DARLINGTON – In a 7-2 vote, the Darlington School Board of Education approved spending up to $600,000 on the high school science labs in the summer of 2018.
At the board meeting on Nov. 6, board president Aaron Wolfe said that back in the spring 2017, they discussed remodeling the labs and worked with Todd Bushmaker from Hoffman, Planning, Design & Construction, Inc., to get a preliminary estimate of how much it would cost and brought back an update to the numbers at the meeting. Wolfe said the point of the item on the agenda was to give the administration, Hoffman and staff a dollar amount so they can move forward with the project.
“Moving forward we all will have the same understanding of what the board and the district is committing to on this project so we don’t run into issues like we did with the library with the different perceptions on what we had agreed to spend on it, just to make sure we are all on the same page,” Wolfe stated.
At the Building and Grounds meeting, there was a recommendation made to spend up to $600,000 on the science lab project. Wolfe also addressed an issue with the gymnasium bleachers that need the district’s attention. There are some failing parts that needs to be replaced and some of the railings are not able to bear enough weight. Wolfe said those issues with the bleachers will factor into the decision made about the science lab.
The district did have bids placed for repairs for the bleachers but those were nine months ago, according to Darlington Head of Maintenance, Lee Black. To replace the bleachers, a high estimate could be up to $150,000 and that would be spent this school year.
Wolfe said that all these projects would be coming out of the school’s Fund Balance.
Bushmaker showed the board a conceptual construction estimate at about $560,000. He commented that they have met with staff and gone over ideas as to how the rooms will be laid out but there is still much more that is needed before any final design layout is established. He said that the gas lines are in poor shape and the emergency shut off valves piping needs to be replaced. The rooms only have one or two sinks and that is not efficient enough for a class of 25 or more.
Wolfe stated that he didn’t anticipate that all three rooms were going to be full labs and asked DHS science teachers, Brent Whalen and Amanda Aird, if it made sense to do that.
Whalen said that when the classes were first made, there was a distinction between each room as one being for chemistry, biology, and whatever else. He felt there should be more freedom and flexibility for the rooms.
“As we have seen over the last few years, we have had a lot of curriculum changes because we now go to the idea that the kids will drive what we teach. The room might be a chemistry room right now and in five years it might have to get used for something else. I am running out of biology room that I do Project Lead the Way stuff,” Whalen addressed.
Whalen added that the plans that Hoffman has drawn up currently don’t have to be set in stone. Recently the science teachers and the administration toured the new school facilities at Dodgeville and Whalen said he has new ideas that may save them more money, like portable tables with the lab stations on the outside of the room instead of fixed tables with the sinks and labs on the tables.
Matt Wilson said he thought that the school district does need to do something with the rooms but when he saw the price, it was a concern for him.
“My number one concern is the price tag; number two is taking all that out of Fund Balance. It makes me nervous,” Wilson said.
Judy Huntington said with the STEM programs growing, the district could see more students taking science classes and utilizing these rooms. The last time the rooms were updated was in 1965, so this was an investment in the current students futures.
Teresa Siegenthaler asked what wasn’t included. Bushmaker answered that loose furnishings, such as stools or the teachers’ desks would not be included in the price given. The stools that were looked at in Dodgeville were about $100 per chair, which would be about an extra $7,200 for 24 chairs per room.
Joe Riechers asked if the mobile stations like Whalen spoke of would be less in price. Bushmaker said he did not have numbers for those items but with the lab stations on the outside of the room, there would be no need to hook up gas, electrical or plumbing to the middle of the room to the tables so essentially it would make the cost lower.
Wolfe showed the board an estimated spreadsheet of what the projects would do to the Fund Balance and what the next five years might look like. The current Fund Balance is just under $3,000,000 and is at a healthy 29.5 percent of expenditures. The districts policy says that they need to maintain 27 percent or higher in the Fund Balance. Both the science projects and the bleachers would take approximately $750,000 out of the balance, which would it down to 22 percent. Wolfe said that if the district plans to put a surplus of $200,000 in the Fund Balance over the next five years, it would get the district back up to the 27 percent.
“If we do it and do it this way, there is no tax impact. It will not increase anyone’s taxes to do this,” Wolfe informed the board.
The district does have $301,000 in Fund 46 but is not available until 2021, but Wolfe said it is there if the district needs to put off a few other projects until then. He said there is always the possibility that in later years the district will be able to put in more than $200,000 of surplus but it is unsure of what the state budget will be.
McKinstry will be using the rest of the money for the Energy Efficiency project. District Administrator Denise Wellnitz said that it will be tight but it is they don’t see McKinstry going over the amount left. McKinstry still needs to go out to bid on those projects but will bring those bids back to the board before anything is finalized.
 Wilson said that in the treasurer’s report, the district has $1,500,000 in cash currently and if they take out $750,000 the district will be down to $750,00 and he is concerned that is too low.
Bob Hermanson agreed that going in to the Fund Balance is a concern for him too but he thought about “the advantage to our students and the advantage to our school by doing this project outweigh those concerns.”
Wilson felt it would be better to do the projects one at a time instead of one big project, therefore the school would know how much each room would be and would be able to have enough money set aside for the next rooms. Wellnitz said that the school has about an 18-month window to do the rest of the energy efficiency projects so McKinstry has to get their work done during the summer when this project is planned.
High school principal Aaron Lancaster stated that he could see both sides of the discussion. He could see that it was hard to spend the large amount of money all at once but would like to see the school move forward. Lancaster and DEMS principal Michelle Savatski were aware that this would cause the school to run on a tight budget but both were confident that they could do it.
“If you do put it off, than in addition to what you want to do over there will eventually have to be done over here,” Savatski said referring to the DEMS building.
Wellnitz said the timeline is if the board sets a number amount than Bushmaker will bring designs back to the board in December and then go out to bid and hopefully get bids back by January.
Wolfe said that whatever number the board approves should include everything from the abatement to stools, the entire project.
Riechers made the motion to approve up to $600,000 for the science lab project with Huntington second. The motion passed 7-2, with Wilson and Matt Crist against.
Other Business
The Darlington School Board of Education approved/accepted:
-the Wiegel Strong Foundation donation of $1,000 toward anti-bullying t-shirts for 5th-8th grade students and $1,200 toward a portable sound system for DEMS.
- a donation from Branded Apparel, sold at Hartig Drug, of $73.40 to the Rosie Bags Project at DEMS.
-John and Robin Steiner’s donation of an alto saxophone, valued at $350 to the DEMS Music Program.
-the Hoops Club’s donation of $225 to the girls basketball student activity account and $100 to the boys basketball student activity account.
-Steve Fitzsimon’s request to resign as an Assistant High School Track Coach.
-WHSRA as a co-curricular sport at the high school.
-using the Dennis Pratt Fund to purchase 10 light packages as well as a DMX cord required to operate the lights at a cost of $2,000.
-Anna Rose Gavin as the DHS Assistant Track Coach