CHIPPEWA FALLS — The public got its first glimpse at blueprints for a new Stillson Elmentary School on Tuesday at a discussion for a $65 million referendum heading to voters April 3.
Schools Superintentendent Heidi Taylor-Eliopoulos presented some rough schematics for the proposed $22 million Stillson Elementary School, showing the gymnasium, library and classrooms, and described how the building could be divided for multiple uses. She cautioned the blueprints are early designs, but they give the public an idea of what could be done in a new building.
“What’s cool is we can actually lock off the public area from the private area,” she said.
The school board decided last month to buy a 36-acre parcel in the town of Lafayette, roughly one mile from the current elementary school building, for a new school. The district already owns 19 acres along Highway I in Chippewa Falls east of HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital, but the board has decided to place that land for sale. Lafayette residents expressed concerns about their children being bused an additional four miles to the location in the city, and they said they didn’t want to lose having a school in their town.
Buying the 36 acres will not be included as part of the referendum; the district hopes to pay for it by selling the 19 acres it owns in the city.
Taylor-Eliopoulos also showed how the middle school would be remodeled to allow for a new wing to the building and how the parking lot would be reconfigured because of the expansion.
Fourteen people — of which half were school officials or board members — attended the meeting.
Taylor-Eliopoulos wasn’t concerned about the small attendance, saying that recent studies showed most people don’t want to receive information about the referendum at meetings. She said the district also is printing pamphlets and recording podcasts as alternate means of informing the public about the referendum.
Steve Hilger of Bloomer asked if the district has made sure the construction estimates have been presented to architects to make sure they are accurate; Taylor-Eliopoulos said the school has verified that $65 million will be enough to complete the work.
After the hearing, Hilger said he was impressed with the overall presentation.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” Hilger said of the referendum. “I think they need to produce the numbers for each project. The public needs to know these so they can buy into this.”
The district spends $11,602 per pupil; it is the 32nd largest in the state of 424 school districts but just 396th in per pupil spending, Taylor-Eliopoulos said. Seven of the district’s nine schools are considered to be above capacity enrollment as the district has added more than 500 students since 1995. The district now has about 5,100 students.
“We have slow and steady growth,” she said. “It’s led to some space issues.”
Stillson Elementary School is the oldest school in the district, with the oldest wing constructed in the 1930s. It has an aging septic system and plumbing problems; there have been reports of the kitchen losing water pressure when toilets are flushed. The building went through renovations in 1957, 1963, 1985, 1990 and 1994, and is considered at the end of its useful life.
Stillson Elementary School, the oldest school in the district and considered to be at the end of its useful life, sits on a 6-acre site, which is regarded as too small of a footprint for a modern elementary school. Taylor-Eliopoulos said a new school should be on at least 14 acres.
The proposed referendum also includes a classroom addition, capital improvements and repairs, technology upgrades, renovations at the middle school, a science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) lab addition, capital improvements and repairs and technology upgrades at the high school.
Approving a $65 million referendum would add $125 annually to the tax bill for a $100,000 home. Money would be borrowed and repaid over 20 years.
In November 2016, voters in the Chippewa Falls area rejected two separate referendums.
One was for $61.2 million, with most of the money earmarked for replacing Stillson Elementary School and renovating Halmstad and Jim Falls elementary schools; it also included buying land for a future high school. That question failed with about 46 percent support.
The other referendum question sought $98 million, with most of that money for a proposed new high school. That question only received 38 percent approval. A recent survey showed that of the general public — non-parents and non-staff — only 23 percent support replacing the high school. The new referendum makes no mention of purchasing land or replacing the high school.