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Board hears plans for fitness addition
North Crawford School District
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Two representatives from the architectural firm HSR Associates made an initial presentation to the North Crawford School Board on plans to build a new fitness and wellness center at the school as an outgrowth of the federal PEP Grant, which was received last year.

The architectural plans were developed as an answer to housing fitness equipment and facilities that the grant will provide to the district.

HSR’s Brad Simonson and Daniel Blumer showed the board five preliminary plans to house the proposed fitness and wellness facility. The first would remodel existing space inside the school to accommodate the fitness equipment. At about 3,000 square feet, the remodeled space could fit all of the exercise equipment, envisioned to be purchased under the grant, the architects acknowledged. However, Blumer explained the equipment would be “a tight fit” in the space. The space would most certainly be crowded with 50 people in it, according to the architect.

Simonson explained while the plan works on some levels, safety (due to crowded conditions) would have to be a consideration.

The two consultants told the board that meeting the needs of the fitness and wellness initiative would be best served by creating 5,014 square feet to house the Pep Grant portion of the plan and another 3,542 square feet for the related “community wellness” space for a total of 8,556 square feet.

While the PEP Grant solely targets the students and staff in the first three years of its implementation, the goal is to ultimately include the broader community in a lifelong fitness pursuit. To that end, the North Crawford School District has partnered with Vernon Memorial Healthcare to work with the community aspect of the project.

In addition to running a hospital in Viroqua, as well as numerous outpatient clinics both in Viroqua and surrounding communities, VMH runs a fitness center in part of the hospital space in Viroqua. Plans at North Crawford would have VMH involved in managing the community aspects of the fitness center.

VMH CEO Kyle Bakkum and VMH Fitness Center Administrator Angie Dahl both attended the meeting of the North Crawford School Board on Wednesday.

After reviewing the plan to get the fitness equipment into existing rooms in the school and then outlining their perceived need for a larger school and community wellness and fitness center, the architectural consultants presented four other plans to address the needs of a facility envisioned to be over 8,000 square feet.

Early into the presentation, North Crawford School Board President Mary Kuhn told the architects she was having “a hard time visualizing the space.”

The presenters began with a plan focused on an expansion of the front of the building to house the fitness-wellness center, but noted it would leave very little room in front of the building and could cause other problems for the school.

They then presented two options for the back of the building that could work. The first, which was centered in the back of the building, would present issues by interfering with the existing mechanicals and sanitary sewer in the area, according to the consultants.

A second option would keep the addition in the back, but move it up to the western edge of the building facing Highway 131. This option would disentangle the addition from the operational aspects of the building. An advantage of both options in the rear of the building was the proximity to existing locker rooms and the playing fields.

However, the consultants cautioned that both options were not that visible to the passing public.

School board member Michael Bedessem tried to put the public visibility issue in the sparsely populated area around North Crawford into perspective for the consultants.

“You already know what’s here if you’re this far,” Bedessem said. “There are only two choices; you’re either lost or you’re coming to the school.”

The architects seemed to concede his point.

The option for the addition that seemed most favored by the architects was building on the west end of the building in a portion of the student parking lot.

The west side plan would locate the addition toward the middle of the building about where the door is located on the west end of the school. The architects favored the location over something located near the front or back of the west end of the building. They noted it would be visible and accessible to the public with a nice connection to the playing fields. They acknowledged its biggest drawback would be a longer distance to the existing locker rooms.

The architects did note that in using the west side location some adjoining classroom space might be available. However, they cautioned against dislocating a science room because of the water and other services involved in such a room, which would have to be redone if the rooms were relocated.

The architects acknowledged that two or possibly three classrooms could be spared for use by the project. However, they cautioned the board what might happen in the future if classrooms were made part of the project the school’s population began to grow again. They said two classrooms would create an additional 1,400 square feet, but that would not be enough to accommodate even the minimum Pep Grant needs.

If the building is modified, there are concerns that the state department of administration might require sprinklers to be installed in the building as well as firewalls to be created. However, Blumer told the board that he believes if the space is repurposed for use as fitness and wellness activities to be used primarily by students, the state building inspectors would not see it as a change of use and therefore would not require upgrades to the building. Following the presentation, school board members asked questions and made their concerns known.

School board vice president Miguel Morga asked if the proposed addition wasn’t making the space too big.  He questioned whether there would be 50 people at one time in the space. Morga also indicated that reducing the number of treadmills from six to three might be appropriate. He said he was concerned that the district might be “going overboard.”

Bedessem challenged another assumption made by the architectural firm that the district would need to house all of the equipment the Pep Grant would finance. He said maybe only two thirds of the equipment was needed.

“How many people do we want to service?” Bedessem asked.

For his part, VMH CEO Kyle Bakkum noted that many of thecomments made “good sense.” He said that providing space for VMH healthcare specialist in the community portion of the building probably wasn’t necessary and that having a specialist at the school was something that was not envisioned in the immediate future.

Bakkum cautioned that VMH wanted a space that could be managed, but was excited to have as many people as possible using the facility.

Bedessem questioned the designation of certain space for yoga or other uses, when the school has “three beautiful gyms.”

However, Kuhn was quick to point out that the gyms were heavily scheduled for after school use, particularly during the basketball season.

Then, the architects discussed the cost of the proposed 8,556 square-foot addition. The fitness wellness center was priced at $1,582, 860 with a contingency budget of $192,443 to handle the cost overruns and other problems encountered during construction, making the total cost of the project $1,775,303. Simonson told the board that the budget was well prepared and the numbers were not low.

Bakkum asked Viroqua Fitness Center Administrator Angie Dahl about the size of the existing VMH facility located in the hospital in Viroqua.

Dahl said the space in Viroqua was about 4,500 square feet. Bakkum noted the proposed addition would almost double that size.

Bedessem told the board that he thought the project should cost under $1 million to go to the public.

Pep Grant administrator Tarrasa Lown reminded the board the purpose of the grant was to encourage lifelong fitness. She noted people from the area currently drove to Viroqua to use the fitness center there.

It was also pointed out that district staff using the facility might mean a reduction in health insurance premiums for the school district.

Bakkum urged careful consideration of the project in both its positives and negatives.

For her part, school board member Judy Powell, a Crawford County Public Health Nurse, questioned some of the plans for the addition.

“The face of wellness is changing,” Powell noted. “People are questioning, ‘do I need to attend a facility to improve my fitness’?”

North Crawford District Administrator Dr. Dan Davies asked what was needed in the community portion of the addition. For instance, he considered aerobics a need of the community space.

Kuhn, a fitness center user, suggested more lockers and shower space.

For his part, elementary school principal Brandon Munson wondered if it might be possible to use the adjoining classroom space for the mechanicals, janitor space and storage, thereby reducing the space needed to be constructed in the addition.

Kuhn cautioned that the board should be certain of the needs before making a decision.

“We can’t add on,” Kuhn said. “It won’t be cost effective. Once the building is built, it’s over.”

Board member Tina Volden had another concern. She questioned whether restrooms could be constructed to accommodate those using the fields as competitors or fans, replacing the current porta potties

Simonson said that similar restrooms had been included in projects constructed in Cuba City and DeSoto that opened from both the inside and outside and could be locked from either direction. He noted, while it might present some security problems, they could be solved.

Kuhn said she believes a community meeting should be scheduled at some point to explain everything to the public. The board president said the approach the district should take in constructing the building was to take out things that do not enhance the wellness fitness purpose. She said the project didn’t need all of the things that had already been included in the architect’s initial plans.