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North Crawford pursues referendum
For November 2022 ballot
North Crawford

NORTH CRAWFORD - The North Crawford School District completed the the third in a series of four community input meetings about maintenance or improvement projects for district facilities. The district’s intention is to pursue placing a referendum to exceed state tax levy limits on the November 2022 ballot.

The school board is expected to take up recommendations from the Advisory Task Force (ATF) composed of district citizens and administrative staff at their April 20 meeting. 

One last community input meeting is scheduled for April 13, from 5:30-7 p.m. At that meeting, Kramer Construction is expected to present refined estimates for projects identified as priorities at the March 21 meeting.

The district is working with three contractors on the referendum development project. Those include FEH Designs out of Des Moines, Iowa, Baird Financial Advisors, and Kramer Construction.

Goals and timeline

Kevin Eipperle of FEH Designs led the presentation at the March 21 community input meeting. To start, he reviewed the ‘Goals for Success,’ generated through discussion at the first two meetings of the ‘Advisory Task Force’ (ATF). The ATF is made up of interested citizens who attend the meetings.

North Crawford ‘Goals for Success’ in the facility maintenance/upgrade prioritization process include:

1. Long range maintenance plan, budget for operations, and achievement of projects we do not have the budget for.

2. Take a comprehensive look at needs, and capture needs from all stakeholders.

3. Maintain the infrastructure elements that need it.

4. Find out if there is a need for daycare.

5. Attract and retain staff and students.

6. Expand partnerships with communities and families. (technical education, collaboration, meeting space)

7. Promote pride.

Resulting from ATF discussion, the following decision-making criteria was agreed upon by the group for making a recommendation to the school board:

i) Safety & Security

ii) Maintain building and site

iii) Part of the long-range plan

iv) Retain staff and students

v) Improves learning

vi) Promotes pride

Facility assessment

A high-level assessment of the facility by FEH Design and Kramer Construction yielded the following:

• roof replacement, restroom updates, window replacements, paving, sewage vault repair, flooring replacement, misc. estimated costs.

• it was stated the existing restrooms, other than the Middle School do not meet the current ADA requirements. It was explained that since it is a law and not just a code requirement the changes needed to be made and it just depended on whether it was paid for under the referendum dollars or if it came from a different funding source.

• currently the women’s restrooms are short three water closets for the gymnasium (assembly) occupancy. All other spaces have enough fixtures per the current code.

Cost and budget

Eipperle reported back to the ATF at the March 21 meeting about several items of information requested at the prior meeting. Those included district debt service, data on successful recent referendums, a comparison of local school district mil rates, and the school’s history with open enrollment.

“When asked for a simple show of hands for what your ‘emotional number’ is for a total referendum dollar amount at the last meeting, it seemed the number was about $5 million,” Eipperle said. “Then, when asked what dollar amount you would feel comfortable paying on your property tax bill to fund the additional amount, the number seemed to be about $200 per year.”

Superintendent Brandon Munson pointed out to the group assembled at the third ATF meeting that $200 per property-tax-paying household would equal a total dollar amount greater than $5 million.

Eipperle shared that the district’s 10-year general fund balance had dwindled in recent years. In 2012-13, the balance was $2,652,759.99, and in 2021-22, the balance is $2,252,672.84. The biggest decreases came in 2016, and then in 2020.

Eipperle shared with the group that overall, the district has a relatively low debt service obligation of $55,385 per year. That amount, he said, would be paid off in 2026. He also pointed out that the district’s mil rate at $7.77 was low or average compared to other school districts in Southwest Wisconsin. A mill is one one-thousandth of a dollar, and in property tax terms is equal to $1.00 of tax for each $1,000 of assessment.

Mil rate comparison

Mil rates for other districts in the area were Seneca, $7.05; Prairie du Chien, $10.66; Wauzeka, $11.42; Boscobel, $8.29; DeSoto, $8.13; Viroqua, $8.05; Kickapoo, $8.15; Riverdale, $8.56; River Ridge, $9.59; and Richland Center, $9.12.

The last time a referendum, proposed for ‘non-recurring’ purposes (not for operational revenue), was passed by the voters in the North Crawford School District was in 2003. The amount levied to property tax payers in the district was a total of $1,800,000. That amount was levied over six years, from 2003-2009, at $300,000 per year.

Other districts

The Prairie du Chien School District proposed an eight-year referendum in the total amount of $7,600,000 for ‘operational needs of the district,’ in 2003, which failed to pass. In 2005, the voters passed a $1,200,000 referendum for facility replace and repair projects. In 2007, $995,000 was passed for improvements to the high school. In 2016, a referendum in the amount of $1,340,000 was passed for ‘recurring operating expenses.’

Seneca School District proposed a referendum in 2001 for ‘non-recurring purposes’ in the amount of $600,000, which failed. Another referendum in 2001, for ‘non-recurring purposes’ in the amount of $625,000 passed. A 2003 referendum for ‘maintaining operations of South Elementary School’ in the amount of $180,000 failed.

Two referenda in the Wauzeka-Steuben School District, put to the voters in 2006 and 2020, passed. In 2006, $600,000 was approved for ‘operational and maintenance expenses.’ In 2020, a ‘non-recurring three-year operational’ amount of $954,000 was passed.

Kickapoo School District passed a referendum in 2005, in the amount of $675,000, ‘non-recurring purposes of maintaining existing educational programs and facilities.’

In 2020, voters in the LaFarge School District passed a referendum for improvement to district facilities in the amount of $5,500,000. Construction is in progress at this time.

Open enrollment

As far as open enrollment, the North Crawford School District has shown a consistent trend in recent years of open enrollment out of the district exceeding the number of students who open enrolled into the district. 

When open enrollments in, and out, are combined, the numbers show 

• a loss of two in 2012-13 

• a loss of 15 in 203-14 

• a loss of seven in 2014-15

• a loss of eight in 2015-16

• a loss of 15 in 2016-17

• a loss of 28 in 2017-18

• a loss of 36 in 2018-19

• a loss of 36 in 2019-20

• a loss of 47 in 2020-21

• a loss of 53 in 2021-22.

Eipperle pointed out that the pandemic, and an increase in home schooling, had likely contributed to some of the larger losses of students open enrolling out in the last several years.

The district also has seen considerable staff turnover, combined with teacher retirements, in the last several years.

Possible projects

At the top of the list of must-have projects to maintain the district’s current facility is replacement of the roof. The roof has exceeded its lifespan, and the membrane is causing leaking into insulation. 

To replace the roof is very roughly estimated at a cost of $2.9 million, salvaging perhaps as much as half of the insulation. Related to that, are needed repairs to the exterior stucco, just below the roof, which has deteriorated and is allowing leakage. A very rough estimate of the cost of both these projects combined is $3.7 million. To add sloped roofs with steel roofing on just three parts of the building would add, at very rough estimate, about $620,000-$920,000. 

Eipperle told the group that cost and availability of insulation is very high and very scarce at the moment. He emphasized that orders for insulation are as much as 11 months out at this time. 

“Any numbers presented as rough estimates tonight will almost certainly change before a referendum is passed by the voters, and bids let for the project,” Eipperle emphasized. “With current inflation and petroleum market volatility, the estimated costs would likely change before the next meeting of the ATF on April 13.”

No cost estimates were provided for repair or upgrade of the district’s sewer vault, nor was the topic discussed at the meeting.

Other quick and dirty project estimates provided to the ATF by FEH Designs and Kramer Construction include:

• Concession stand - $11,000 to $15,000

• Restrooms, including addition of handicap accesssible stalls - $58,000 to $75,000

• Four unisex bathrooms - $80,000 to $90,000

• Paving upgrades - $575,000 to $640,000

• Windows - $125,000 to $150,000

• Library update - $30,000 to $35,000

• Daycare facility - $110,000 to $130,000

• Storage mezzanines - $230,000 to $290,000

• Replace middle school flooring - $110,000 to $125,000

• Update FACE classroom - $13,000 to $17,000

• Add trophy displays - $12,000 to $24,000

• Paving at bus barn - $60,000 to $68,000

• Playground fencing - $1,000 to $1,200

• Athletic field press box improvements - $90,000 to $100,000

• Various landscaping - $22,000 to $25,000

• Various classroom improvements - $12,000 to $15,000

• Greenhouse - $55,000 to $65,000

• Shop area equipment - $275,000 to $355,000

• Auxiliary gymnasium - $2.3 million to $2.6 million

• Wifi to the press box - $3,000 to $5,000

• Multipurpose room (wrestling) - $105,000 to $115,000

• Restrooms near theater - $6,000 to $8,000

• PA system (retain speakers and wiring) - $45,000 to $50,000

Ideas sparked

FEH Designs was present in the building all day, Monday, March 21, for a ‘spark design session.” That session allowed staff or members of the community who had additional ideas or alternative models to address a previously addressed need, to have their ideas roughly translated into an architectural drawing.

As explained by Eipperle, these ideas were fresh that day, and Kramer Construction did not have time to create any rough estimates for project cost. After the ideas were presented, ATF participants were asked to use stickers with the numbers ‘1,’ ‘2,’ and ‘3,’ to rate the sparked ideas and pre-existing projects researched in order of importance. A ‘1’ sticker indicated most important, with ‘2’ and ‘3’ being second and third choices. Reports of this voting will be on the agenda of the April 13 meeting of the ATF.

Projects generated from the spark design session included:

• two different iterations of high school locker rooms and showers, incorporating handicap accessible bathrooms and showers

• three different iterations of a possible daycare facility in the building

• a 50x80 indoor multipurpose room

• an indoor concession stand

• Additional meeting room and office space for contracted professionals that work with students in the building on a periodic basis

• mezzanine storage ideas

• alteration/expansion of the student services/media center

• an 86 x 54 wrestling/multipurpose area, plus restrooms