The Waunakee school board Monday deferred its vote on a reimbursement resolution for the upcoming referendum until its special meeting scheduled for July 25.
The board of directors has considered borrowing funds for the initial design and engineering costs prior to the Nov. 8 election, when voters will decide whether the district should proceed with building a new elementary and middle school. If voters approve the referendum, the district will be repaid from the new referendum borrowing.
Initially, the board discussed spending $800,000 on the design costs to be reimbursed from that initial borrowing. That would allow the design and engineering to begin this year with a construction start date of 2023 for Heritage Elementary School on the west Woodland Drive Intermediate School site. The school could then open in the fall of 2024, at which time, construction of the new middle school on the former South Street Heritage Elementary School could begin. The middle school would then open in fall 2026.
An updated plan was presented on Monday, scaling down the design costs to $550,000.
Steve Summers, the district’s business manager, presented two other options. Both would have later design, engineering, and the construction dates. The engineering would take place after the referendum in both cases, so no reimbursement resolution would be needed.
One allows the design to begin after the November referendum and the new Heritage Elementary to open during winter break in December of 2024 to January of 2025; construction of the new middle school on that site would begin in December 2024 for a fall 2026 opening.
The third option would also call for construction of Heritage to begin in March of 2024 for a fall 2025 opening. At that time, the middle school construction would begin, and that school would open in fall of 2027.
“It’s important to keep in mind that there are fiscal and budget implications depending on when the school is open and construction takes place,” said Steve Summers, the district’s business manager. Summers stressed that the projections were estimates.
Vogel Bros. Building Co. used historical data to present those projections at the board’s special meeting in June. Should the board proceed with the first or second options, with construction beginning in 2023, the capital cost would be $168.6 million.
However, if the start were delayed to 2024, the cost would rise to $173.4 million.
Board member Brian Hoefer asked what the three month early start gives the project. Robin Svola, Eppstein Uhen Architects project manager, explained that it allows for land surveying, wetland delineation, soil boring, a traffic impact analysis, architectural design, civil engineering and landscape design, and structural, mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineering.
“It gets to about two-thirds through the design process, and what’s driving this is the steel purchasing,” Svola said.
Board member Jack Heinemann, who had to leave the meeting early, indicated that he would vote no on the reimbursement resolution, saying, “We’ve heard from the community.”
Two members of the public spoke against the reimbursement resolution during the public comment section of Monday’s meeting.
Hoefer asked about steel costs.
Pete Vogel, president and CEO of Vogel Bros., said getting in a queue for steel and other materials is important. HVAC and other building material orders are backed up, he said.
“You’ve got them coming out of supply chain issues, slowly, and then a lot of demand. The demand is as high as we’ve seen it... If we order a piece of switch-gear today, they’re telling us 55, 60 weeks on some jobs, ” Vogel said, adding the phenomenon is international.
Board rejects midyear opening option
Board member Mark Hetzel and others said they did not see how an elementary school could open in midyear, saying he believed the board had two choices – build Heritage to open in fall of 2024 or fall 2025. The later start date would require no reimbursement resolution and is estimated to cost about $5 million more.
“It’s a burden on our elementary school teachers to move midyear from one school to another when it takes them weeks to get their classrooms organized before school even starts. They’re going to have a year of total unsettlement; the kids are going to be unsettled,” Hetzel said.
Other board members agreed.
“I think we’ve lost two years with COVID. We’ve got a need to get these schools started,” said Judith Engebretson, adding she believed the board should “push ahead” with with the earlier opening date and a reimbursement resolution.
Board member Ted Frye, who attended the meeting remotely, asked about the price increase.
Vogel estimated the increase at about 3%.
Heinemann said as interest rates rise, demand will potentially be slowed.
“I’m just looking at it from the taxpayers’ [perspective], and my constituents, they’ve spoken,” Heinemann said.
Other constituents have also spoken, Hoefer said, including “kids that don’t want to be in trailers.”
“People come to this ... village because of the schools,” Hoefer said. “If we start putting them in trailers in two years, that’s going to go out the window when Sun Prairie and Middleton are adding on and they have more options.”
Frye said he did not have confidence that the referendum would pass and was not comfortable with borrowing early.
But Hetzel noted that the financial plan presented earlier in the meeting showed that the tax rate could be kept at a consistent rate of $10.89.
The district’s financial consultant had presented a plan with an assumed interest rate which could change, along with other variables, Summers said.
Summers noted that it was the first opportunity for board members to hear from its financial planner, and the board could vote on the reimbursement resolution at the July 25 meeting.
Board member Katie Dotzler asked about enrollment at Waunakee Middle School and how it would manage with a later opening date.
The largest class is anticipated in the next couple of years, Guttenberg said. While additional trailers would not be needed, class sizes could increase. No additional space is available to add another teacher and class, he said. Afterwards, enrollment is projected to go down.
“I don’t think you’re adding more trailers, but are you having larger class sizes? That’s possible,” Guttenberg said.
Hetzel said reimbursement referendums had been used in the past. Guttenberg confirmed that one was used for the Prairie Elementary School addition.
The school board will discuss the reimbursement resolution at its July 25 meeting at which time, a vote will be needed in order for the design team to begin engineering, Summers said.
At that meeting, staff will bring back the draft referendum resolution, reimbursement resolution and budget.