SDR school board committee tackles space needs
By Eileen Persike
Rhinelander School District space needs were discussed at the Jan. 13 Operations and Strategic Planning Committee meeting. One focus was on Crescent School, the largest of the district’s elementary schools. Though four classrooms have been added at the school over the past several years, overcrowding remains an issue. Building a multipurpose room /gymnasium addition to the school has long been part of the plan.
“Currently lunch tables take most of the gym, so during lunchtime, there can’t be any phy-ed classes,” Superintendent Kelli Jacobi said. “And then there’s clean up. So for a building of over 400 students – how do we get all these gym classes in? If we have additional space, we would still have lunch, but they could be doing phy-ed classes in the other part.”
The money to build the addition, at a ballpark cost of $1 million, is in the budget.
“I think we need to build this multipurpose space at Crescent. It was needed before we added two more classrooms, so we know we still need it,” said committee chair Mike Roberts. “We have it as a set aside in the budget; we’ve been holding that money for that.”
Jacobi said that to have the space ready for next fall, the board needs to “get the ball rolling.” As the largest of the elementary schools, with 200 more students than Central, Pelican or Northwoods Community Elementary, Jacobi said the school also needs additional classrooms.
“Two additional classrooms will help but we’re always one step away from not having enough,” Jacobi said. “If the state goes to full-day 4K, that’s going to be a problem at Crescent School. The other schools will be fine.”
Over the summer the elementary schools were reconfigured so that all housed 4K through grade five. Prior to that, Central consisted of all of the district’s fourth and fifth graders. New attendance boundaries were drawn, which will need to be looked at and reconfigured again later in the school year.
“We knew we would have to after this first year of the reconfiguration to see if we can do a better job of balancing the students between elementaries,” Jacobi said. “Currently Crescent is the high – I think it will always be the highest number of students, but currently it’s much higher.”
Jacobi added that Central and Pelican can absorb some students, and that Northwoods Community school has room for even more students. Making those sorts of changes will be hard, she said.
“We know that people don’t like change and for those that see Crescent school as their home school and that changes, many won’t be happy, many will be very vocal to their school board members,” Jacobi said. “So we just have to do this knowing that in the best interest of the school district … this is something that we need to do as a school district to be sure our elementary schools are as balanced as we can make them with numbers.”
The big picture
Space concerns at Crescent were not the only ones on the table last week. Jacobi told the committee they have several things going on so administration is taking a look at the “big picture.”
The sports complex project and before that the football stadium improvements, have necessitated the discussion as the district’s current maintenance building will be demolished to create additional parking. Jacobi said a new building is costly, so they are looking at what other options are available.
“What kind of kicked this whole thing off is that building went up for sale and one of our thoughts was maybe we should just buy that building and leave our program in there,” said district Business Services Director Bob Thom.
In addition to relocating maintenance, looking at the big picture includes the green building behind James Williams Middle School which houses the Northwest Journeys mental health day treatment program for youth. Because of where it is located, one option could be to turn the entire building over to maintenance and find a new space for Northwest Journeys.
Another piece of the equation is a building on Brown Street the district is leasing for its Hodag Connections Learning Center (HCLC) now being available for sale. Thom told the committee if the district bought the building rent from the state of Wisconsin program also operating out of that building would pay for the building.
“So then we started to think of what are some other options we could use to try and get out of that lease,” Thom said. “We need to do something with the Northwest Journeys program…is there more space somewhere that could take the HCLC program and the NWJ program, put them in the same building?”
He revealed three initial options.
• 130 Stevens St. S., across from city hall. $185,000 for 7,200 square feet. Recently renovated, accessible restrooms. Space for both HCLC and Northwest Journeys. Give the green building to maintenance.
• 729 Lincoln St., $499,000 for 7,806 square feet, recently remodeled. Could house HCLC and administration there and move Northwest Journeys to the current administration space adjacent to Rhinelander High School
• Move Northwest Journeys and HCLC into the current administration space; admin would move to a new location.
Thom said the current administration space has the internet connect and security in place for the school programs. But Jacobi said she has reservations about moving administration out of the school and that should be considered as a last option.
“My concern would be the perception in the community,” Jacobi said. “If we were to move to another location that looked like we were upgrading our office space, that would never be the intention, but I would be concerned that some community members may see it that way. That perception is critical.”
Committee chair Mike Roberts requested more information, including a cost-benefit analysis of the Northwest Journeys program and narrowing down the maintenance department needs.