With its first official votes on the matter, the Wisconsin Dells School Board signaled on Tuesday its desire to build a new high school in the near future.
The board accepted two gifts and one tax dollar commitment for construction of a new high school complex, breaking a community-wide log-jam dating back three years to a previous, failed referendum for a similar project.
Presiding over a jam-packed special meeting called to consider the various recent commitments of assistance for the new high school, the board voted unanimously, with one member abstaining, in favor of accepting Todd and Shari Nelson’s offer of 80 acres for the new school.
The board also voted to accept a gift of $500,000 in memory of Jack B. Olson from Sally Olson Bracken and Sandy Bracken and to accept a promised percentage of Premier Resort Tax monies from the village of Lake Delton. The funds would go toward a yet-to-be designed building, which must be approved in a district-wide referendum before construction can proceed.
When that referendum will take place and the exact size and scope of the project it would allow remain to be determined by the board, which for more than two years has grappled with the direction and financing of long-needed facilities upgrades across many of its school buildings.
The board heard an impassioned plea from Todd Nelson to accept the offer of prime Dells farmland from him and his wife, both graduates Wisconsin Dells High School and long-time supporters of education in the area.
The farmland, formerly a part of the century-old brew farm, sits across U.S. Highway 12 from Trappers Turn Golf Club, owned and operated by the Nelson family.
“The single largest thing we can do for this community right now is to build this school,” Nelson told the board. “If we don’t, people are not going to move here and we’re not going to be able to attract the talent we need for teachers to teach our kids.”
The board voted 6-0 to accept the Nelsons' gift, with board member John Campbell abstaining due to his school board election campaign promise of last spring to support a new elementary school for Lake Delton.
The board’s vote to approve the $500,000 gift came next, followed by a vote to accept Premier Resort Tax monies recently committed to the project by the village of Lake Delton.
In spite of long-standing community support in equal measure for a new and also much-needed Lake Delton Elementary School building, little opposition to the proposed high school building arose during the meeting prior to the trio of votes.
The lone dissenting voice belonged to Dells resident and long-time community member Arlene Kanno, who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting directly preceding the board’s consideration.
Kanno said her primary concern with the school board’s direction, even before the vote, was the respective donors’ specifications accompanying the promised gifts and financial assistance.
“This sets a dangerous precedent,” Kanno said. “It’s an attempt by unelected people to dictate to an elected school board.”
Other than Campbell’s abstinence from the vote regarding the Nelsons' gift, board members spoke during their discussion in favor of accepting the gifts and building a new high school.
Board members’ comments reached a fever pitch with an impassioned entreaty from member James McClyman, who pointed to the Nelsons’ promise of an additional 85 acres of adjoining land should the initial building project move forward.
“Mr. Nelson is giving us an opportunity for what I call a 100-year plan,” McClyman said. “This gives us an opportunity to have property where we can build a high school, a middle school, a grade school and even put athletic fields and even school bus garages. We’d never have to buy property again for the school district.”