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District seeks $25 million for school project

Paul Snyder
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The temptation of stimulus money and opportunity presented by construction companies hungry for work persuaded School District of Black River Falls officials to seek $25.3 million for school projects.

Those officials will find out Tuesday if district residents agree. The district is asking for the money in a referendum for a 153,000-square-foot elementary school and a 5,000-square-foot addition to another elementary school.

“My feeling is this will pass,” said Superintendent Paul Blanford. “I will be surprised if it doesn’t.”

Others are not so sure. In 2001, a district referendum for a new elementary school failed. The economic conditions have not improved since then, said William Arndt, city administrator for Black River Falls.

“When you talk about timing, it’s about as bad as you can get right now,” he said. “And at $25 million, it seems like you should be able to get a university for that.”

Putting a $25.3 million project on taxpayers, Arndt said, could prove to be a challenge.

But if voters reject the project, they could lose out on a good deal, said Brad Simonson, director at La Crosse-based HSR Associates Inc., the architectural firm involved with the project. He said the project, if approved, would go out to bid in January and could qualify for federal stimulus money. With stimulus help, he said, up to one-third of the project could be financed at 0 percent interest.

Furthermore, Simonson said, construction companies are looking for work in western Wisconsin and are likely to submit favorable bids.

Right now, the district has three elementary schools, but with annual enrollment increases, Simonson said, some of the schools have modified trailers for use as classrooms.

Compounding the problem, Blanford said, the schools have aging boilers and handicapped accessibility problems.

The new school would provide room, he said, and kill the need for temporary classrooms.

However, Tuesday’s vote could be close. Blanford said a recent survey of residents within the district revealed 53 percent of voters would support a referendum to update district schools, but only 39 percent would do so specifically for the elementary schools.

Although the issue has been discussed for eight years, the proposal going before voters was only accepted in April. So residents only have had a little more than a month to learn about the project.

If the referendum fails, Blanford said, it likely will mean more classroom trailers.

“The district’s been sitting on the issue for a long time,” he said. “It’s about time to do something.”

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