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Voters decide architects’ fates

Yes Yes Nov. 3 Committee Chairman Doug Armstrong celebrates a victory after voters approved two Whitefish Bay referendum questions on Tuesday. (Photo by Corey Hengen)

Yes Yes Nov. 3 Committee Chairman Doug Armstrong celebrates a victory after voters approved two Whitefish Bay referendum questions on Tuesday. (Photo by Corey Hengen)

By Sean Ryan
sean.ryan@dailyreporter.com

HSR Associates Inc. on Tuesday night could join Bray Associates Architects Inc. with schools to design this winter.

Or HSR’s leaders could be left with little more to do than wonder what went wrong, as was the case for Sheboygan-based Abacus Architects Inc. Either way, the fate of HSR’s winter workload is up to voters to decide.

HSR, in La Crosse, has $8 million on the line in a De Soto Area School District referendum Tuesday and an $8.9 million Prescott School District project up for a vote Nov. 17.

“It would definitely ease the tension,” said Kyle Schauf, an HSR architectural associate.

In a tough year for architects, the whims of voters on school projects take on extra importance, said Matt Wolfert, principal at Sheboygan-based Bray Associates.

“The referendum process is just such a unique experience,” he said, “and it’s something that is just completely out of your control as a consultant.”

Wolfert watched Tuesday as voters approved two of Bray’s projects — $11.38 million worth of construction for the Trevor-Wilmot Consolidated School District (view the proposed rendering) and $22.6 million worth of maintenance and new construction for the Whitefish Bay School District. He said Bray’s team will spend the winter working for both districts so plans are ready to be bid next spring.

“There’s no doubt it’s been hard,” Wolfert said. “There’s no doubt it’s been lean, and this will keep our current staff working.”

As Wolfert’s designers begin their work, Robert Heimerl, president and designer at Abacus Architects, will have his team survey voters rather than design schools. Voters in the Cedar Grove-Belgium Area School District on Tuesday rejected $25.2 million worth of projects, and it is Heimerl’s job to find out why.

The lost work will not result in layoffs at the 10-person firm, Heimerl said, but it is difficult maintaining the status quo instead of considering the possibilities of hiring more people.

“It’s one of the issues of working with schools,” he said. “You have to rely on the vote, and the public sentiment is not always for it. And that’s why we’re anxious to find out from the community what the issues were.”

Although voter opinions can determine the health of companies such as Bray and Abacus, Wolfert and Heimerl said they cannot try to persuade people to approve a referendum.

“It’s not our role to get into opinion,” Heimerl said. “We need to provide the facts and let them make their own decisions.”

As Wolfert and Heimerl react to the decisions of voters in Tuesday’s referendums, Schauf and the other architects at HSR are looking forward to two referendums in the next two weeks.

“At this point,” Schauf said, “any project is a good project.”

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