Voters will decide April 7 whether to allow the Sauk Prairie School District to borrow up to $64.9 million to implement several upgrades and renovations to the high school, its athletic facilities and Merrimac Community Charter School.
Superintendent Jeff Wright said the school board authorized the referendum Jan. 20 with a unanimous vote. The school district is requesting exactly $64,985,000 from taxpayers to complete the upgrades. It includes about $40 million for renovations to the high school, including building a new north addition for relocation of the main office, classrooms, and a new pool. Eight million is included for a new athletic facility and $5 million will go towards upgrades for Merrimac Community Charter School, he said.
The last time taxpayers passed a referendum was April 2014 to build Bridges Elementary School and complete improvements to Tower Rock Elementary School, safety and classroom upgrades, Wright said. With the district's enrollment is at its highest levels and continuing to increase, the improvements are needed to create a more modern learning environment, Wright said.
Updates to high school and athletic facilities
Wright said 60% of the funds will go towards upgrades to the 60 year old high school, including constructing an addition towards the north end of the current building for a new main entrance, 6-7 classrooms, new locker rooms, relocating office areas, a new pool, and renovating the commons and kitchen areas.
Other improvements include adding a fabrication lab and advanced manufacturing room for more hands on learning experiences for students to explore potential career opportunities, he said. The electrical and HVAC systems, some of it original from when the high school was first built, will be upgraded along with a fire suppression system added.
High School Principal Chad Harnisch said the new ADA compliant pool will have 8 lanes for competition and a separate four lane pool will be built for the community will replace the 45 year old pool. The current six lane pool will be “filled in” to relocate the fitness area and wrestling room into the area, both currently at limited space, Wright said. A new parking lot will be built for entrance to the new pool and community events, Wright said.
A multi-purpose room will be added to the River Arts Center for smaller performances, like recitals, lectures, and community events, such as Bald Eagle Days, he said. The multi-purposes room will also be funded by a $1.5 million donation from an unnamed community member, Wright said.
Outside improvements, including building new athletic facilities, will take up about 13% of the funds, Wright said. Wright and Harnisch said the new 2,000 seat grand stand stadium will have an artificial turf field for football with a new outdoor track. Two baseball/softball diamonds will be relocated towards the south of the school, along with a soccer competition and practice fields.
Merrimac Community Charter School upgrades
Proposed upgrades for Merrimac Community Charter School include adding four classrooms, a two court gymnasium for the school and community to use, a kitchen and a set of bathrooms, Wright said.
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Merrimac Community Charter School’s enrollment has tripled in the last decade and space has been a problem, Wright said. There is only a single set of bathrooms and students are taking classes at a church basement next door, Wright said.
“This is a way to meet the need of the growing enrollment,” Wright said of the upgrades to the school.
Wright and Harnisch said if the referendum passes, construction and the renovations are estimated to start on the athletic stadium complex and Merrimac Charter School this spring, followed by the construction additions to the north end of the high school. The goal is to complete all the projects by the 2023 school year.
The 2020 referendum, if passed, would keep the school’s tax rates lower than in 2014-2015, Wright said. He said the estimated annual tax impact would be .76 per $1,000 of assessed value or $76 increase for $100,000 of property. For those who own a $200,000 to $300,000 home it could equal about $150 to $220 more per year in taxes. The school’s current mill rate is $9.50 per $1,000 of assessed value, he said.
Wright said the current calculation is only an estimate and the borrowing rate might be less with low interest rates, the competitiveness of the construction market and the growth of the community.
“Hopefully as we get closer to April we’ll be able to lock in a lower rate,” Wright said.
Wright said the impact of the $34.6 million referendum in 2014 was 74 cents per $1,000 of assessed value per year, which the district has been paying off early. He said the board authorized $1 million this year to pay down of the debt, saving $750,000 interest throughout the life of the loan. The same amount was approved by the board last year, he said.
If the 2020 referendum fails, officials have looked at putting classroom trailers in Merrimac Community Charter School, Wright said. Decisions will need to be made about structural issues with the current athletic fields and officials will look to continue conversations about what short term improvements will be needed at the high school, he said.
“At some point when you fix something repeatedly it’s better to look at a long term solution as opposed to a series of short term fixes,” Wright said.
Wright said two informational meetings open to the public are scheduled from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. March 3 and 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. March 6.
Follow Erica Dynes on Twitter @EDynes_CapNews or contact her at 608-393-5346.