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Community Corner: The reason to look at buildings
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When I came to the Platteville School District, I promised that one of my goals would be fiscal responsibility and transparency.

These weren’t just words tossed out like campaign promises. As a district, we have tried hard to make fiscally sound and responsible decisions, while holding ourselves responsible for the outcome. Our overall student achievement stands out in Southwest Wisconsin, as can be seen by the Wisconsin School District Report Card on our website. Our staff is highly qualified as evidenced by recently adding two more Nationally Board Certified Teachers, Jason Julius and Elizabeth Peters, bringing our district’s total to seven.

We recognize that our schools belong to the Platteville community and enjoy providing community events that go beyond our students and parents. Community participation was on full display recently as the road to Madison for the WIAA Division 4 football championship game was filled with Platteville Hillmen Pride. Our bleachers, auditorium seats, and sidelines are filled with fans for the large variety of athletic events and fine arts performances that are offered throughout the year. I recently had an opportunity to watch the fifth grade orchestra students perform publicly for the first time and am looking forward to the High School’s dramatic production of “Working” later this week.

Back when the decision was made to close O.E. Gray Elementary School, it made financial sense to do so. When the building came back into our hands with the closing of St. Mary’s School, absent a ready buyer, we made a decision to find uses that benefitted the community rather than to allow it to fall into the disrepair that abandoned buildings often suffer. As a result, we are now close to financially breaking even, while providing space for Southwest Wisconsin Technical College, Head Start, Family Connections, and shorter-term use for Southwest Health Center and community recreation programs. It is our continuing belief that the building provides valuable community resource space and that our community members benefit as a result.

None of these would be possible without the strong financial support that comes from community members, many of whom do not directly benefit from our schools. I want to share with community members that last week, the board approved a contract to conduct a facility study that will come at the cost of approximately $18,000. This is one aspect of our efforts to be fiscally responsible and transparent.

The purpose of this study is to first do an in-depth analysis of each of our existing facilities to include their architectural, structural, mechanical, and electrical capabilities. They will be looking at such things as useful life projections and the development of a five-year maintenance plan. The firm will also be conducting an educational space analysis with consideration given to facility usage and limitations for instruction, as well as recommendations to improve the function and safety of common spaces.

They will be developing options for renovation and reconfiguration and/or additions to our existing buildings. The financial cost and a pro/con analysis will be conducted for each of these options. Every time I have brought this up at preceding board meetings, I have always added a disclaimer that it does not mean we have decided on a particular building project or direction. It means that we want to find out as much information as possible about our present buildings and how well they will continue to meet our needs into the future. We want to know how much investment is needed in our current facilities to maintain and adapt them for present and future use.

In 1996, the Platteville School District supported a referendum of approximately $15 million to tear down and rebuild the present middle school and remodel and add on to each of the other facilities. The bond that was approved will be paid back at the end of the 2015–16 school year. This gives us a unique opportunity to potentially address our future facility needs for the next 15 to 20 years without raising the tax levy. There is nothing that says that we have to take advantage of this opportunity, and it will be up to the voters in the Platteville School District at that time as to whether we do or not.

As a school district, we believe that it is important to have as much information possible to share with community members in making that decision. We want to make sure that we have looked at multiple options including students eating lunch in a designated space rather than competing with gym classes, secure and visible entrances, updated learning spaces that fully integrate technology, and grade-level alignments that don’t result in two-year transitions.

We are not at the point of making any decisions and there will be many opportunities for staff, student, and community feedback along the way. The board’s approval of the facility study was that important first step.

The Community Corner is a weekly column of opinion written by guest columnists UW–Platteville Chancellor Dennis Shields; Platteville School District Superintendent Connie Valenza; Platteville Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kathy Kopp; Main Street Program Director Jack Luedtke; State Rep. Travis Tranel, Platteville City Manager Larry Bierke and Police Chief Doug McKinley.