A Look Inside: ECASD $98.6 million capital referendum

Published: Nov. 1, 2022 at 7:56 AM CDT
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - Addressing the aging structure, improving the learning environment for our children and continuing the necessary reinvestment in buildings are at the heart of the Eau Claire Area School District’s nearly $99-million capital referendum on the ballot November 8th. The referendum would cost homeowners 40 cents per $1,000 of property value. For a home worth $100,000, that would mean around $40 per year.

“This is what we’re dealing with, with the thickness of the wall, it’s just hollow. Again when you close the door it will rattle all the way down so it will impact that room and impact this room.”

The wear and tear is evident at South Middle School and why more than $42 million of the referendum dollars would be directed to address the 40-year old structure and it’s metal walls.

“The building doesn’t look very different than when I went to it in 1986-87 or when it opened in 1982,” explains Trevor Kohlhepp, South Middle School principal.

“It starts here and goes all the way around.”

According to Kohlhepp, rust has become an issue for the sixth grade classrooms which are underground at South. No natural light, coupled with poor lighting in the hallways and the need for dehumidifiers throughout the year have become a distraction and not conducive to student learning.

“In the library for example all our carpet is original so we have some tears, cuts and stuff like that. Most of the furniture is original and while it might look sturdy, it’s not the most sturdy. Again all the metal walls, says Kohlhepp. “It’s just showing its age.”

“We have three lunch shifts and we can’t fit our entire student body in here.”

Nearly $21-million will go to the recommended expansion at Eau Claire North High School. Principal Kurt Madsen says the commons area is unable to accommodate the three lunch shifts for their nearly 1,700 students.

“So the plan is to remove these existing walls and bathrooms out of this area, expand it there, add another 250 seats so we can host a bigger lunch shift, maybe get down to two lunches,” says Madsen.

Improving and better utilizing the space around ‘The Doghouse’ is another priority. Madsen says the hope is to have one main entrance so North can host big games and events the way it’s intended.

“So you come in the main door, ‘The Doghouse’ door, you got a big traffic jam there. Keep in mind, down there that’s where you need to buy tickets it’s just not a great setup.”

The blueprint would also allow for the addition of eight new classrooms. Currently, art classes are being taught in old science classrooms, Madsen says more space allows for better learning for their students.

“We can plan for the future with this referendum, because retro-fitting an old classroom is just as expensive as building a new classroom,” explains Madsen.

“We really need to replace the stage and the shell... more space and updated acoustics.”

The referendum is asking for another $20-million to upgrade Eau Claire Memorial’s auditorium. Principal Dave Oldenberg says the stage has floorboards dating back to the 1950′s.

“The auditorium as we looked at is at the end of its life and we want to continue to be able to provide students with the music programming, the co-curricular programming, the fine arts programming and still be able to host people from the community into our auditorium, it’s the largest space in town,” says Oldenberg.

The current commons area can sit 600 students at a time and with more than 1,500 students at Memorial, the school is unable to serve them in two lunch cycles.

Oldenberg says adding extra space would fulfill the need for better technology that they are unable to provide right now, “Expanding the commons to the west will give us another space where we can do large student instruction and give us interactive opportunities for students that have their own 1-on-1 devices.”

“Putnam Heights is in need of more classroom space. Due to the referendum that we had back in 2011, they really planned ahead in making a new addition, so we are looking to add on more classroom spaces and more small group instruction spaces to help the expanded population at Putnam.”

Principal Diana Lesneski says the extra students meant four sections in two of their grade levels this year. Having enough desks and chairs is a daily concern along with a lack of space for special education and multi-language learners.

“There’s definitely that need as Eau Claire is a growing community and this area is growing and the 21st century learner needs those spaces to make sure we meet all those students needs,” says Lesneski.

To learn more about the ECASD referendum on the ballot next Tuesday, November 8th click here.