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Design phase begins for school referendum projects

The River Falls Academy building is set to see a lot of change over the next couple years. The school district's referendum calls for deconstruction of the 1920 s and 1940s additions, and a smaller, new addition to the building. File photo.1 / 2
A small parking lot between Greenwood Elementary and the River Falls School District's main office is one of three small referendum projects set for this summer. The rest of the work is set to begin next spring, as weather permits. File photo.2 / 2

The River Falls School District has been working hard on planning projects stemming from two referendum questions passed on the April 3 ballot.

The referendum questions were as follows:

Question 1: Shall the School District of River Falls, Pierce and St. Croix counties, Wisconsin, be authorized to issue pursuant to Chapter 67 of the Wisconsin Statutes, general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $45,860,000 for the public purpose of paying the cost of a District-wide school building and improvement program consisting of: improving, upgrading, renovating, remodeling, and maintaining various school facilities, including Greenwood, Rocky Branch, Westside and Montessori Elementary schools, Meyer Middle School, River Falls High School and the transportation and maintenance buildings; constructing and equipping additions to Greenwood, Rocky Branch, Westside and Montessori Elementary Schools for classrooms, multi-purpose/flexible space and cafeteria/kitchen space; demolition of a portion of the Academy Building and portable classrooms at Westside Elementary School; upgrading technology infrastructure; site and athletic facility improvements and acquiring furnishings, fixtures and equipment?

Question 2: Shall the School District of River Falls Pierce and St. Croix Counties, Wisconsin, be authorized to issue pursuant to Chapter 67 of the Wisconsin Statutes, general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $2,100,000 for the public purpose of paying the cost of school facility improvements consisting of the addition of artificial turf and lighting to outdoor fields, parking and other improvements?

Planning process

Though the district has been hard at work, Superintendent Jamie Benson said there won't be much work seen this summer.

"We are in a design phase," Benson said.

The district's architect and construction management firm is meeting with principals, staff and doing design work for each of the projects included in the referendum.

Only three small projects are set to be completed this summer: resurfacing the high school tennis courts, replacing the black top in the bus garage parking lot, and resurfacing a small parking lot between Greenwood Elementary and the District Office.

"That's really all that's going to be done this summer," Benson said.

The district also recently accepted a bid with a good interest rate, Benson said, for general obligation bonds to cover the costs of the projects. The referendum will bring in extra tax money from school district residents, which will be used to pay off the general obligation bonds. Benson said the bonding process is very similar to taking out a mortgage on a home.

Highlights

In the fall the district will begin the bidding process for construction work on various projects.

Benson said some of the highlights of the referendum questions include:

• Additional classroom space, which will accommodate anticipated enrollment growth and allow the district to improve some flexible learning spaces, and provide more opportunities for personalized hands-on learning and STEM learning.

• The River Falls Academy will see significant change, Benson said, with the 1940s and 1920s sections set to be removed. Benson said the district will make a "respectful exit" from that portion of the building.

"We are working with the River Falls City's Historic Preservation Commission, and we're working with them very closely on ways to preserve many of the keepsakes in that building," he said. "And to make sure that we make a respectful exit and preserve the history of that building to the best of our ability."

The district will add a small addition to the Academy building.

• Benson said the referendum also includes a lot of safety, and general maintenance improvements at the district schools. Benson said the community is also "giving a gift to our kids" in the form of artificial turf for outdoor fields.

Benefits

One large benefit is that these projects won't just be an investment in the next year, Benson said. In fact, the district hopes the referendum renovations will last for the next 10 years.

"This is an investment in the future," he said. "It's not just an investment for today. And our community has a long tradition of making those investments in public education."

Future

Construction on the vast majority of referendum projects is projected to begin next spring, weather permitting, Benson said. The work will actually continue for a two-year cycle, he said. It will go all the way through summer of 2020. The district anticipates work will be fully completed by fall of 2020.

The district is also committed to communicating and keeping the community informed of projects as they unfold.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

(651) 301-7849
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