Officials hope $11 million reduction will be enough to win voter support in April
Architects who proposed a $61 million renovation of Port Washington High School now say they can cut that cost to $50 million while retaining key elements of the initial design in an attempt to win public support for an April referendum, Supt. Michael Weber told the Port Washington-Saukville School Board Building and Grounds Committee Monday.
Bray Architects initially proposed demolishing about 70% of the high school and rebuilding it to create a modern school with a stunning entryway as well as new gyms, a cafeteria and classrooms.
To pare the price, Weber said, some parts of the school initially slated for demolition would be retained but gutted. Design elements like the entryway and new facilities built on the hillsides on the south and west sides of the school would remain part of the proposal.
A work group comprised of administrators and school board members has expressed support for the revised Bray plan, Weber said.
“The work group is pleased with the proposal Bray is recommending,” he said.
Efforts to revise a sweeping proposal to renovate the high school and build additions onto the district’s three elementary schools was prompted by a survey last month that showed while a majority of district residents support school renovations, they are not willing to spend $61 million on the high school and $25 million on the elementary schools.
Survey responses also showed that residents would not support doing both the high school and elementary school renovations at the same time, an approach that would cost taxpayers an estimated $86 million. When asked to choose, most survey respondents indicated the high school should be the priority.
“It was fairly obvious from the survey that we need to take a look at another proposal to reduce the tax levy impact while still keeping the highest priority needs in the project,” Weber said.
What the survey did not tell school officials is how much taxpayers are willing to spend on the schools. It appears Bray and school officials are betting that amount will be around $50 million for the high school.
The fate of the elementary schools, however, remains uncertain.
Abnormally large and often unpredictable enrollments in particular grades, referred to as bubble classes, and additional requirements for programs like special education have created space issues at Lincoln and Dunwiddie elementary schools, administrators have said.
At Saukville Elementary School, the only open concept school in the district, security is the concern.
Bray Architects had proposed building regulation gyms and community rooms at Lincoln and Saukville Elementary schools. That would free existing space for additional classrooms and address the need for school facilities that can also be used by the public.
At Dunwiddie Elementary School, Bray proposed building an addition onto the front of the school that would provide a new secure entryway, additional classrooms and a community room. A new parking lot was also part of the proposal.
At a meeting earlier this month, Weber told the school board he believes the cost of renovating the elementary schools could be reduced from $25 million to between $10 million and $12 million by eliminating the gym addition at Saukville Elementary School, building a smaller addition onto the back of Dunwiddie Elementary School and foregoing the new parking lot.
At Saukville, Weber said, the renovations would focus on security by providing a new public entrance to the gym and partitions within the school building.
At Lincoln Elementary School, a new regulation gym would remain part of the plan because it would serve two purposes — provide a large gym that could also be used by nearby Thomas Jefferson Middle School, which needs additional indoor recreation space but cannot be easily renovated to provide it, and free existing space at Lincoln for additional classrooms.
The question administrators and board members continue to wrestle with is whether to draft a referendum that seeks funding for all school buildings at the same time or take a phased approach that would anticipate a series of referendums over a number of years.
What’s clear, Weber said, is Bray Architects does not believe the high school project can be divided into phases.
“They looked at a phased-in approach at the high school, but the problem is what happens if one phase of the project passes (in a referendum) but the other phases don’t?” Weber said.
The elementary school projects may be better suited to a phased approach, but Weber said that regardless of a referendum, the district intends to use money from its fund balance to make security improvements at Saukville Elementary School and create a new, secure entrance at Dunwiddie Elementary School.
“The new entrance at Lincoln cost a little more than $100,000,” Jim Froemming, director of business services, said. “In the grand scheme of fund balance, $100,000 is not that big of a deal.”
Bray Architects is scheduled next month to present a revised plan to the board, which intends to approve referendum questions in January.
“My goal is to have the high school look like a new school when we’re finished with it,” school board member Brian McCutcheon, chairman of the building and grounds committee, said. “I hope we can also handle some of our important needs at the elementary schools.
“I hope we can get it all done.”