Coulee Region school districts reassessing facility needs

Published: May. 2, 2022 at 4:50 PM CDT
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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WEAU) - A pair of school districts in the Coulee Region may be going to referendum this fall to address facility needs.

In the School District of La Crosse, enrollment has been declining over the last decade, and Superintendent Aaron Engel expects that trend to continue.

With a smaller student population, and the cost of maintaining aging buildings increasing, the district is working on ways to downsize the amount of buildings it operates.

Engel says the district’s current focus is a plan which sets out to merge Central and Logan high schools into a single, new building.

“To pursue a project like this, we were looking for a site that was at least 40 acres in size, if not bigger, and as centrally located as possible,” Engel explained. “As you look across the city at available options, there’s just not a lot out there, and so the Trane Technologies headquarters building became the most viable option.”

If a new high school is built, the district’s three middle schools would close, and students would be moved into the former Central and Logan buildings.

“The goal is to improve the educational environment for half our students,” Engel added. “Our high schoolers would get a brand-new building that would be modern and state of the art, and our middle school students would get buildings that are 30 and 40 years newer than their current ones.”

Engel says constructing a new high school at the Trane site on Pammel Creek Road is estimated to cost $194.7 million, which would be funded through a possible referendum this November.

The plan is still conceptual, and the district will be sending out a survey this month to see what community members think about the proposal.

“Depending on the results of that survey, that’ll give us an indication of what’s next,” Engel said. “We hope that this idea appeals to a large percentage of our community, and we’ll be able to go to referendum in November.”

Another school district that may put a referendum on the November ballot is Onalaska, which recently conducted a study of its facility needs.

Superintendent Todd Antony says the findings were presented to the Board of Education on April 25, and renovating the middle school was identified as the top priority for the district.

“The middle school building was built in 1978, and there hasn’t really been anything substantial done to it since then, “ Antony detailed.

Increasing classroom size, improving science spaces, and updating HVAC, plumbing, and other general building needs would be included in the renovation project.

Much like La Crosse, Onalaska will also be sending out a survey next week to see what facility improvements the community would like to see the district undertake.

“After we get the results back, we anticipate sometime in July the board making the decision on how to proceed,” Antony said. “If they were to decide to proceed with a referendum, we would be looking at the referendum being on November’s ballot.”

Antony adds the district will be holding listening sessions throughout the summer and fall if a referendum were to be placed on the ballot.

La Crosse is also putting together informational sessions on the high school consolidation plan, with the next being set for May 3 at Lincoln Middle School from 6-8 PM.

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