School district unveils improvement plan that could cost as much as $57.5 million
Concurring with a recommendation from a citizens study group, the Grafton School Board on Monday agreed to solicit public input on ways to upgrade district facilities, a process that could result in a 2016 referendum asking voters to approve as much as $57.5 million in new spending.
The board’s decision came after it heard a presentation outlining two upgrade proposals, each calling for extensive remodeling and additions to schools.
One plan calls for $49.5 million in renovations, including $32.1 million for upgrades to Grafton High School, which would be expanded to accommodate the addition of seventh and eighth grades in an adjoining middle school.
The combined-schools campus would have a variety of new classrooms, as well as a new gymnasium, soccer fields and varsity baseball and softball diamonds.
Other costs include $7 million to convert the current John Long Middle School for use as Grafton Elementary School; $5.5 million to upgrade and expand Woodview Elementary School; $3.9 million to upgrade Kennedy Elementary School; $600,000 to demolish the current Grafton Elementary School; and $400,000 to upgrade district offices.
The other plan calls for a $57.5 million project with most of the same upgrades, but it includes $13.2 million to build an elementary school to replace Kennedy School. This proposal eliminates $3.9 million in renovations at Kennedy.
Grafton officials are fine-tuning options for a possible referendum five months after Port Washington-Saukville School District voters approved a $49.4 million referendum to upgrade the high school and an elementary school.
Both Grafton plans were presented to the board by Jody Andres of Hoffman Planning, Design & Construction, a firm being used by the district to assess facilities and prepare design plans for possible upgrades. The firm has worked with the Grafton Citizens Facilities Committee, a group of school, village and town officials and local residents that met several times this summer to explore cost-effective, long-term upgrade options.
The committee was formed last spring after the board decided to assess facilities in response to long-standing concerns about overcrowded and aging buildings; deficient technology, electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems; deteriorated outdoor athletic fields; and other problems.
“It’s clear that something has to be done, and these are the best options,” said board member Paul Lorge, who noted the committee unanimously endorsed the two plans discussed Monday.
Joining Andres for the presentation was teacher Carl Hader, head of Grafton High School’s technology education department, who provided a video tour comparing local facilities to those at area schools. Hader’s slideshow contrasted overcrowded, cluttered classrooms in Grafton with spacious, state-of-the-art facilities at Arrowhead, Hartford, Plymouth, Slinger and other high schools.
“Our tech-ed labs are cramped. There’s no room for classes and storage,” Hader said.
“Safety is at a tipping point. Efficiency is long gone.”
Hader, who said he visited more than a dozen schools for the presentation, noted most of them had technology classrooms and work areas with modern equipment, ample storage and learning environments that appeal to students.
“We are good stewards of what we have, but are we doing our best?” Hader asked. “We haven’t hit bottom, but we’re subpar.”
Supt. Mel Lightner agreed, saying that Hader and other technology teachers at the school have done their best in less-than-ideal conditions.
“There is no one to blame for how we got to this, but we have to go forward. We can do better,” Lightner said.
Andres told the board both upgrade plans offer much-needed renovations in maintenance, security and handicapped accessibility, as well as reconfigurations of school buildings to improve classroom layouts and renovate science, technology, physical education and fine-arts departments.
Construction of a middle school at the site of the current Grafton Elementary School would move seventh and eight-grade classes to a campus setting with the high school, with combined capacity of 1,100 students, Andres said. The current John Long Middle School would then house grades three through six, with a student capacity of 604.
Plans call for the current high school gymnasium to be used by the middle school, with a new GHS gym to be built at the northeast end of the campus. Technology classes would be moved to the west end of the high school, with district offices relocated near the current auditorium.
The east end of the high school now occupied by the technology department would be redesigned for use as a new main entrance off the student parking lot.
“We’re providing common space but will still be able to separate the middle school from the high school,” Lightner said.
Kennedy and Woodview schools would have 4-K through second grades, with student capacities of 250 and 261, respectively.
New traffic-flow patterns for buses and parking areas for staff, student and visitors are included in the plans, along with upgraded security.
“We have to do better with our school safety, and this does it,” Lightner said.
Among the most dramatic changes proposed for the middle and high school campus are new baseball, softball and soccer fields, which officials said are sorely needed to replace current facilities that are worn, overused and lack adequate drainage.
Those plans also call for construction of junior-varsity baseball and softball diamonds and four community fields in a cloverleaf configuration adjoining the current John Long and Woodview schools.
School officials have earmarked April 2016 as the most likely date for a possible referendum on the upgrades. However, recent discussions have also included November 2016 as an alternate, a proposal endorsed Monday by former School Board member Bob Hoffman.
Hoffman told the board a November date would give the referendum a better chance of passing because of larger voter turnout for the general election. He said the school district’s last referendum, a $16.4 million request to upgrade facilities, passed in November 2000 after failing in a special election the previous May.
However, Lightner said the board should try to get as much public response to the upgrade plans as possible instead of trying to secure a yes vote.
“The district belongs to its citizens, whether you are for this or against it,” Lightner said.
One downside to delaying the vote until November would be delaying upgrade work if the referendum passes. If a referendum is approved in April, the work is scheduled to begin in August.
“A fall referendum basically pushes everything back a year,” Andres said.
For now, Lightner said, district officials will focus their attention on getting public feedback on upgrade plans through surveys, focus groups, presentations and other activities. That process will continue through December, followed by a board decision on the referendum late this year or in January.
“We have to gauge sentiment,” Lightner said.
“The board has to tell the community, ‘We want to hear from you.’”
Image information: AN ARTIST’S RENDERING of some upgrades proposed in the Grafton School District depicts a campus setting that would include Grafton High School (lower right) and John Long Middle School (lower left). The middle school would be built on the site
of the current Grafton Elementary School, which would be razed. Besides building additions (shown in red), the improvements would include new varsity baseball and softball diamonds, soccer fields and a practice football field. The School Board this week reviewed two
proposals for upgrades, one estimated to cost $49.5 million and another at $57.5 million, in anticipation of a possible referendum in 2016.