Rhinelander school board approves $2.9 million for additional classrooms
Work to be paid from excess fund balance
By Eileen Persike
Three Rhinelander schools are slated for construction projects beginning this spring. The School District of Rhinelander Board of Education voted Monday to accept a proposal from Greenfire Management Systems in Wausau for the construction of two classrooms at each of three elementary schools, Crescent, Central and Pelican, as well as construction of a new office location and new driveway at Central. The cost is not to exceed $2,958,420. The money will come from the district’s fund balance.
The additional classrooms will alleviate overcrowding and allow the district to reconfigure each of the schools to house pre-kindergarten through grade five, according to district superintendent Kelli Jacobi. The new classrooms and configuration is scheduled to be ready for the the 2019-20 school year.
“My understanding is that the current configuration was never intended to be the long-term solution,” Jacobi said, referring to the early 2000s when several community elementary schools were closed. “This [configuration] is not in the best interest of the students.”
Currently Pelican and Crescent elementary schools house pre-K through grade three; Central is grades four and five.
“I’m still very conflicted about this,” said board member David Holperin. “We have yet to draw a long-term strategic plan, you’ve talked before we may have a shortage of open space, there are other areas of the elementary schools that may need modification and I don’t know that we have explored other possibilities such as the St. Joe’s building that we had last year. I think we’re moving too fast and I have a hard time supporting this.”
Board member Dennis O’Brien said the district is facing “some level of crisis” based on enrollment.
“Do you believe that unless we alter the physical realities of these buildings the students could suffer lesser educational opportunities than they might if we do these changes,” he asked Jacobi, who responded, “I believe these changes will provide additional opportunities for students.”
Duane Frey said the board has been talking about enrollment and space issues a “long time,” and suggested the board visit Pelican and Crescent and look at the usage of the buildings and how crowded the schools are.
“My concern is, I like the idea that we are doing minimally what we need to do to make it work; I don’t think we’re doing enough, to be honest with you,” Frey concluded. Holperin agreed.
“I don’t think we’re doing enough either,” Holperin said. “And my concern is that we’ll spend $3 million and then in two years we’re going to be engaged in a discussion of other things we need to do for millions of dollars.”
Late last winter the district looked into purchasing the St. Joe’s building for pre-K classes and possibly a daycare, but Pine Grove church bought the property before the board could decide how to proceed. Holperin suggested looking to purchase a similar building in the district for pre-K, at least for the next few years, would be a better solution. Mike Roberts disagreed, saying though St. Joe’s was viable, it’s not there anymore.
“It’s important to move on this so we don’t keep waiting and over-analyzing – paralysis by analysis is what happened with the St. Joe’s issue and we missed it, so I think we should move forward,” Roberts said. “We know we need the classroom space, and the redesigned office and drop-off area at Central is safer and meets more of our security needs. In my opinion there is no reason to wait.”
Ann Munninghoff Eshelman reminded the board that “one of the board’s top goals” is to increase the school ranking in the state, and this proposal would accomplish that.
“One thing we’ve learned over and over is that the more times a kid has to transfer from one building to another, each time his performance goes down,” she said. “We don’t want another building.”
Board members also discussed the importance of adding more common space at Crescent, such as a larger gymnasium. Jacobi said there are plans to look at improving the kitchen at Crescent as well; both projects could, she said, be added on to the end of the classroom construction.
School district administration will be working on reconfiguring boundaries in the coming months. Jacobi said parents will be kept informed as the work proceeds.
The motion to accept the proposal passed 5-1 with Holperin voting against.
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