Hundreds of residents have already returned surveys testing support for school improvements
The Port Washington-Saukville School District’s $86-$97 million school improvement proposal has caught the public’s attention.
As of Tuesday morning, just four days after surveys intended to gauge public support for the proposal and what could be one of the most expensive referendums in Wisconsin began arriving in homes, 745 completed questionnaires had been returned.
“We’ve had a huge response already,” Supt. Michael Weber told the School Board’s Building and Grounds Committee Monday.
According to School Perceptions, the Slinger-based company hired to conduct the survey, a 10% to 20% response is considered a representative sample of district residents, Weber said.
The district mailed roughly 8,000 surveys to residents and also e-mailed surveys to more than one-third of those residents.
“We’re going to exceed 10% to 20%, considering we’re almost at 10% already. We could push 30%,” Weber said during an interview. “This shows that the public is very interested in this, which is what we want.”
School officials have said repeatedly that the results of the surveys, which are due by 5 p.m. Monday, Oct. 6, will dictate whether the board decides to hold a referendum and how much money it will seek to borrow.
The survey is based on a study of facilities and a proposal by Bray Architects that calls for renovating and enlarging the district’s three elementary schools and building a like-new or brand-new high school.
Demolishing about 70% of Port Washington High School and rebuilding on the current site at 427 W. Jackson St., as well as renovating and enlarging elementary schools, would cost $86 million, according to Bray Architects.
If the projects are approved, school property taxes would increase $461 per $100,000 of property value. The owner of a $200,000 home — roughly the average property value in the City of Port Washington — would pay an additional $922 in property taxes for years to come.
If, however, district residents and the School Board choose the more expensive high school option — building a new school on a site that has yet to be determined — the total cost of the projects is estimated to be $97 million.
That would increase school property taxes by $513 per $100,000 of property value. The owner of a $200,000 home would pay an additional $1,026 annually in taxes.
The eight-page survey divides the projects into two groups — elementary school improvements and high school options. It asks residents if they support the elementary school projects and which high school option, if either, they prefer, then asks them if the elementary schools or high school project should be done first or if they should be done at the same time or not at this time.
“Maybe residents will support doing all the projects at once, but I’d be surprised,” Matt Wolfert, president of Bray Architects, told the board last month. “Most communities typically don’t favor that.”
Remodeling and building additions onto Lincoln and Dunwiddie elementary schools in Port Washington and Saukville Elementary School is estimated to cost $25 million.
That would increase school property taxes by $184 per $100,000 of property value. The owner of a $200,000 home would pay about $368 in additional taxes annually for 10 years to finance the improvements.
“The fact is, we are out of space at our elementary schools,” Weber said, adding that grades that have an unusually large number of students put pressure on already cramped schools.
The additions at Lincoln and Saukville elementary schools would include large new gyms and community rooms. Existing gyms would be redesigned to provide additional classrooms and library space.
At Dunwiddie Elementary School, an addition would be built on the north side of the building to provide a more secure entrance, community room and classrooms.
Deferred maintenance projects would be undertaken at all elementary schools. They include the replacement of roofs, security and safety upgrades, replacement of mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems, parking lot, sidewalk and playground improvements and kitchen upgrades.
Many of the new facilities at the elementary schools and Port High, in particular the gyms, would be designed with community use in mind to alleviate the demand for indoor recreation space.
The high school project would be the most expensive, and the survey asks residents for feedback on both the like-new and brand-new options.
“The high school has been a concern going back to the 1970s, when we added the tech-ed wing and the auditorium,” Weber said. “And it continues to be the topic of conversation.”
The like-new option, which calls for demolishing and rebuilding about 70% of the school on its current site, is estimated to cost $61 million.
It would increase school property taxes by $277 per $100,000 of property value. The owner of a $200,000 home would pay an additional $554 in taxes annually for 22 years.
The project would provide new classrooms, science labs, an art studio, cafeteria, library and arena-style competition and auxiliary gyms separated by wrestling, weight training and fitness rooms.
The parts of the school that would be renovated rather than rebuilt are the Washington Heights building on the north end of the school, the technology education wing to the west of it and the auditorium at the southeast end of the school.
Plumbing, heating and electrical systems in the school, which dates to 1931 and has grown over the years through a series of additions, would be replaced. Antiquated safety systems such as fire alarms, exit lighting and the backup generator, bathrooms that do not comply with Americans with Disabilities standards and the roof would be addressed.
The other option is to build a new high school on a yet-to-be-determined site at an estimated cost of $72 million.
This project would increase school property taxes by $329 per $100,000 of property value. The owner of a $200,000 home would pay an additional $659 in taxes annually for 22 years.
The problem with this option is that the district has not identified a new site for a school, although Wolfert said the projected cost includes an estimate for land acquisition and the extension of utilities to the site.
Last month, School Board member Sara McCutcheon asked whether the survey should give residents some indication that the district has been unable to find a new high school site in the City of Port Washington.
Weber said that if residents favor a new school on a new site, the district would undertake a study of potential locations throughout the district, which in addition to the City of Port Washington includes portions of the village and town of Saukville and the Town of Grafton.
Whether additional studies and planning are needed will depend in large part on the survey, which is why a strong response is important, school officials have said.
The surveys can be filled out and mailed to the school district or taken online at a School Perceptions website.
Each survey includes a unique code to prevent the same person from submitting multiple surveys and instructs people to call the district office if they need additional surveys, in cases, for instance, where multiple adults live at the same address.
Weber said this week that in such cases, one person can take the survey online and the other can complete the printed survey. Although the surveys will have the same code, both will be accepted, he said.
Members of the Building and Grounds Committee plan to review the results of the survey during either the week of Oct. 13 or Oct. 20, and discussed Monday whether to extend what officials called a “special invitation” to the public to attend that meeting or to present the results to the public at a later date or in a different way. The results will be posted on the district’s website, officials said.