BOSCOBEL - Last week, the public got its first look at Boscobel Area School District’s proposals for a consolidated campus. On December 7, at the first of three public meetings, school officials, board members, and consultants presented various options and their price tags and answered citizen’s questions. The board faces a January 25 deadline to move forward with a 2023 referendum to pay for the upgrades.
The heart of the proposal calls for moving grades four and five, as well as district staff, to an expanded middle/high school building. Also on the table are a new gymnasium, which would serve the general public, as well as students, and new classrooms for career and technical education offerings like shop class.
These ideas are the culmination of a process that began six years ago. In 2016, the district asked the voters for two referenda: An “operational” one to keep the lights on without cutting services, which passed, and a “facilities” one to put all the grades under one roof, which didn’t.
“It is difficult to pass a referendum with two questions on it,” board Vice President Wendi Stitzer told attendees. “One nice thing about the survey that we sent out this time is that we put the projects in buckets, so we can see what the priorities the community feels we need to focus on and where they’re willing to spend their hard-earned money for us to be able to help our students and help our community thrive.”
Those “project buckets,” along with rough estimates of their cost, are as follows:
• Closing Rock Elementary and adding space for grades four and five at the middle/high school: $10.9 million.
• Adding a second gym to the middle/high school: $9.7 million.
• Expanding and renovating career and technical education spaces: $2.7 million.
• High priority capital maintenance needs: $2.0 million.
• Closing the Annex Building and moving district offices, while also expanding the kitchen and cafeteria at the middle/high school: $3.1 million.
• Renovating the elementary school with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) upgrades, as well as improvements to floors and ceilings: $1.4 million.
• Additional renovations to the middle/high school including ADA upgrades to the restrooms and other projects: $4.2 million.
Taken as a whole, the projects add up to just under $34 million. The district’s debt capacity—the maximum amount of money state law allows it to raise—is $37.5 million.
Debt capacity is “sort of like a credit card,” explained Molly Ryan, a consultant with the firm Plunkett Raysich Architects (PRA), a firm with offices in Madison and Milwaukee that’s been hired to assist with the project. “You don’t want to spend the top dollar of your credit card. You want to keep it under a comfortable level. That’s why we are proposing this long-range plan in pieces.”
After the unsuccessful referendum of 2016, school personnel set out to find out why the voters rejected it. That led to a survey in 2019 that showed support for a more modest plan. At that point, according to Ryan, a facility advisory committee, was formed to help shape next steps.
“In our time working with the committee we’ve heard again and again that the community would like to operate as a one-campus district,” Ryan said. “And though we know that we can’t do that all at once, we’re planning for the future. We know that this will take time.”
That larger plan includes the eventual full integration of the entire district into the remodeled middle/high school, but the timing for that depends on some unpredictable factors, according to District Administrator Lisa Wallin-Kapinus. “I’d like to say we could have the whole thing done in 10 years, but I don’t have that crystal ball. As we can afford to do more, it’s mapped out,” she said.
Wisconsin spends about $750 less on each student in public school than the national average, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. In Boscobel, declining enrollment numbers means less per-pupil funding, and thus the need for a referendum.
“By upgrading our facilities and programming, it is our hope that we can attract students from area schools in the open enrollment process,” Wallin-Kapinus explained at the meeting.
In an email statement, she said that helping the school get better would help the wider community, too.
“Schools are an important link in the growth and development of their community,” she wrote. “The conceptual long-range master planning efforts seek to align with the long-term goals of both the Boscobel Area School District and the community of Boscobel. Our planning seeks to address the district’s immediate needs as well as enhance our student experience and promote future growth in the school and community.”
In addition to the three public meetings, voters are encouraged to fill out a community survey by December 23. Survey results will help guide the board’s decision about a referendum for 2023.Wallin-Kapinus said there was some confusion as to whether the mailed surveys were intended for the resident or the addressee of the postcard. In fact, the postcards were printed with names by accident, and anyone can use the code to access the survey.