The Chippewa Valley Technical College’s $48.8 million referendum question on the April 7 ballot will ask taxpayers in 11 Wisconsin counties if they will voluntarily raise their property taxes to allow CVTC to build, expand and renovate its facilities in western Wisconsin.
Included in the referendum are several new construction projects, a land purchase and smaller remodeling and lab additions:
- Construction of a new Transportation Education Center in Eau Claire, beginning in 2021, for $28 million. This project would take up the lion’s share of referendum dollars.
- Expanding and remodeling the Emergency Services Education Center in Eau Claire, beginning in 2021, for $9.2 million.
- A new automatic fabrication lab at the Manufacturing Education Center in Eau Claire for $3 million.
- A 6.7-acre land purchase next to CVTC’s River Falls campus for $2.5 million.
- A series of smaller projects, including adding mobile labs, remodeling at the Menomonie and Chippewa campuses, a storage facility and additional labs.
If the $48.8 million measure passes, it would trigger a district-wide average property tax increase of $13 per year per $100,000 of equalized property value, according to CVTC. (Homeowners’ exact property tax increase would be collected based on their property’s assessed value, depending on their municipality.)
That average increase is based on the 2019 equalized value of $26.2 billion of the college’s 11-county district, CVTC President Bruce Barker said.
The CVTC district board, made up of nine appointed members, said at meetings in early 2020 that they wanted to expand certain programs to target workforce needs, and to meet facility expectations for training emergency service workers.
Barker said updating CVTC’s facilities, technology and programming is “critical” so the college can educate people in skilled trades.
The two largest projects — the new transportation facility and the emergency services building expansion — would be part of CVTC’s campus on the west side of Eau Claire.
By far the largest single project of the referendum, the 124,000-square-foot transportation building would sit just south of Highway 312, near the CVTC Energy Education Center. It would combine the college’s automotive technician, auto collision repair, diesel truck technician, truck driving, agriculture technician and motorcycle, marine and outdoor power programs.
The emergency services expansion would add a space for defense and arrest tactics training, an expanded firing range and “use of force” virtual simulation, according to the college.
Classes sometimes hold simulations in hallways and closets and pile up chairs to recreate emergency scenes for training, and an expansion would allow it to create “more realistic spaces,” said Kasondra Mero, director of CVTC Paramedic, FireMedic, and EMT program.
If voters pass the referendum, the projects would have a three-year timeline, with the lion’s share of the construction happening in 2021 and 2022.
If it passes, CVTC’s $2.5 million purchase of the 6.7-acre property on South Wasson Lane in River Falls — which is currently home to Moody’s Automotive, an auto sale and service shop — will be approved. Contingent on a state board’s review and approval, the land could be used for future expansion of the River Falls campus, the college said.
The board first signaled its interest in a referendum with a community survey in fall 2019, conducted by Slinger-based consulting firm School Perceptions. The survey was sent to 20,000 households in the CVTC district, and 2,657 people responded, according to the college.
The survey overruled a CVTC student housing facility project — it found that an $18 million housing project got the least amount of support from potential voters — 49% said they’d probably support it.
According to the survey, about 63% of people surveyed said they’d likely support a new Transportation Education Center; 68% said they’d likely support remodeling and expanding the Emergency Services Education Center, including buying land in River Falls.
Barker urged voters in CVTC’s district to vote absentee in light of the COVID-19 pandemic that has closed city and county offices to foot traffic and resulted in a statewide shelter-in-place order that could extend into late April.
CVTC last went to a referendum in 1997, when voters approved a $10.7 million measure to build manufacturing and emergency services education centers and a campus in River Falls.
The CVTC district includes Eau Claire, Dunn, Chippewa, Buffalo, Pepin, Trempealeau, Clark, Pierce, Jackson, Taylor and St. Croix counties.