By Kellen Olshefski
Elkhorn Area School District is welcoming and aiming to clarify any questions regarding the district’s two-part referendum on the April 7 ballot prior to the election.
The two-part referendum calls for two sums of money: the first being a total of $20.42 million to address safety and maintenance concerns, a large part of which are at the district’s elementary schools, the second being $4.73 million for a new multi-use space and athletic training facility/fitness center at the high school.
The advisory committee was formed Sept. 8 to research, evaluate and support the development of a community-wide survey and make facilities recommendations to the board. The committee is comprised of Elkhorn residents – both parents and non-parents – local educators, local businessmen and women and elected officials from the City. The committee provided its recommendation at the school board’s last meeting in December.
Overall, the referendum is expected to impact district taxes by about $35 annually on a $100,000 home, according to District Business Manager Bill Trewyn.
As for Question 1 of the referendum, Elkhorn Area Schools District Administrator Jason Tadlock said Monday the first question addresses school building and improvement.
One part of the referendum includes the addition of gyms to West Side and Tibbets Elementary schools, which currently share gym space with the cafeteria.
Tadlock said this type of setup currently limits the type of programming the district can do and how often the schools can hold gym classes.
“So our kids have limited access to those classes and that physical activity,” he said.
Additionally, Tadlock said core teachers’ instructional preparatory time is affected by when students are in gym classes.
Unfortunately, Tadlock said this setup also prohibits the district from providing options for physical activities on days when outside recess is not an option, such as the many below zero days the past two winters.
“So, they have no space to come in and be physically active when they’re stuck inside for recess,” he said. “This year, we’ve had probably two-week spans where the kids couldn’t get outside to be physically active and we didn’t have the space indoors for them because the cafeteria is the same space.”
Additionally, he said this makes extra-curricular activities difficult as community organizations such as the PTA often use the gym space for their meetings, using his daughter’s fourth grade basketball team as an example, who is prepping for a state tournament.
“They can only get in two nights a week anyway, if there’s a PTA meeting held in the cafeteria at West Side, there’s literally no other space in the district for them to go and hold their practice, because literally, there’s just no other space available,” he said.
Question 1 also addresses the expansion of technology and vocational education spaces such as woodworking and metals, CNC machining and 3-D printing.
Tadlock noted the expansion to the culinary arts classrooms, which he said currently look like what might be referred to as home education rooms of the 80s.
The goal is now to prepare students for culinary arts and working within the food and service industry.
As a part of the expansion, Tadlock said the area would be done with professional grade ovens, cook services, stainless steel tables and counter tops, putting students in a true professional setting.
Additionally, renovations will give students access to provide catering to both the cafeteria and library areas.
Other improvements include safety and security upgrades, such as cameras, lighting upgrades for low-lighting areas and perimeter and doors security upgrades.
In regards to the addition of an athletic and multi-use space at the high school, the second question of the referendum, Tadlock said the largest portion of the $4.73 million for the project is two auxiliary gyms, the equivalent of about two full-court gyms, something desperately needed by the district.
Throughout the year, Tadlock said the new gyms could house gymnastics and wrestling in the winter, but also other sports during the other seasons, freeing up the Suchy Gym for use by basketball and other events in the winter.
“Right now as a district, we’re really crunched on the gym space,” he said, noting a gym hasn’t been added since the 1990 renovation of the high school.
Tadlock said currently the Suchy Gym isn’t large enough to hold gymnastics, wrestling and cheerleading, noting cheerleaders are already practicing late at night, because it’s the only time available, and the wrestling team, which had about 60 participants this year, was working in the gym that can only host two mats.
“If you can imagine 60 high school kids working in a space large enough for two mats, that’s just inadequate,” he said.
With an additional 1,000 plus students compared to 1990, not to mention community clubs and organizations that utilize these types of spaces, Tadlock said the lack of space is taking its toll on the district.
“We have middle school kids that practice from 7:30-9 p.m. at night, two nights a week, not in school sponsored events, but in community clubs and organizations because that’s the only time they can get in,” he said. “As a community aspect, it’s really critical to have that extra space.”
With more students needing the lifetime fitness, Tadlock said trying to rotate 800 students through a space that can only fit 20 students at a time is difficult and inadequate.
Tadlock said when the district began looking at what could be done, they looked at what the average was around the area for the size of fitness centers. He said while some schools, such as Lake Geneva and Mukwonago, have athletic centers as large as 6,000 square feet, the average was around 4,500 square feet, enough to relieve Elkhorn’s current concerns.
“So, it’s not a Taj Mahal of fitness centers like some of our neighbors have, but it will be really adequate for our needs here,” he said.
“I think it will be really nice, but it’s not going to be exorbitant by any means.”
Tadlock said the additional multi-use space can make more community events plausible and the big component is that it will enable the district to host tournaments and sporting events of significance – such as volleyball, basketball and wrestling – which will not only benefit the school district and the organization hosting those events, but the community as well.
“When you’re hosting a basketball tournament, you’re bringing in hundreds of people, if not getting into the thousands,” he said. “Events like that, we’ll have more than adequate space which will be really attractive for people to come and utilize our facilities.”
Tadlock said the space is much more than a training center, providing much needed, much larger multi-use space.
“I can’t stress enough that we have 1,000 more students than we did in the 90s and we haven’t added any space of that nature,” he said. “It’s past time for us to add adequate space in that area.”
Additionally, Tadlock said the problem isn’t going to go away and with construction costs and bond rates lower right now, putting these projects off will only result in the possible loss of students and potential higher costs when the community does decide to address it.
“I agree with the facility advisory committee that now is the best time to address it,” he said.
Tadlock said for those with questions regarding the referendum, the district wants to be as transparent as possible and has included a lot of community information on the district website at elkhorn.k12.wi.us.
“We have pretty much an open-door policy if you have questions,” he said. “We want to be as transparent as possible and get all the information to people without all overwhelming them.”
The district’s website offers proposed floor plans for the additions, a frequently asked questions section, the estimated effect on the taxpayer – including a tax calculator – and a contact form to submit any questions one might have.