AP NEWS

Middle school needs significant upgrades and expansion in $41M referendum, Baraboo officials say

March 2, 2019

Baraboo School District’s needs, as well as those of modern educational practices, have outgrown Jack Young Middle School, district officials say.

Voters will decide next month whether the district can embark on a $41.7 million renovation project that would add about 45,000 square feet to the building, according to District Administrator Lori Mueller.

Categorized into three areas of focus, the project would repair the 43-year-old building’s infrastructure, modernize learning spaces and expand common areas.

“I think the biggest issue is that the building is old and it just needs attention,” Mueller said.

“And it wasn’t built for today’s students, nor today’s education, nor the number of kids that we have here,” added building Principal Dave Schwarz.

Schematic designs will be developed after the April 4 election if voters pass the referendum. Until then, officials won’t know exactly how the costs will break down into specific areas, but Mueller said they are projecting about half of the $41.7 million to go toward modernizing classrooms, one-quarter for repairing infrastructure and the remaining one-quarter for expansion.

Tax impact

Estimates on the project’s impact on local property taxes have dropped significantly since the Baraboo School Board authorized the referendum in January. Board Treasurer Sean McNevin said at a meeting in February that the district set aside money remaining from the recent high school referendum and put it into a bond sinking fund, saving an estimated $500,000 in interest.

Largely because of that, the middle school project will raise taxes by 32 cents per $1,000 of property value, rather than the previously estimated 94 cents. That means if the referendum passes, school-related taxes will increase by $48 on a $150,000 home.

“We’re very excited about that,” McNevin said. “It’s essentially like we’ve been making two mortgage payments as we go in the past, and now we’re going to go back to one mortgage payment and use that savings to lower the impact of this project. So, it’s been a really good strategy. It will make it very palatable on the tax bill compared to the highs and lows that you could see.”

Aging infrastructure

Jack Young Middle School was built in 1976.

Its heating and ventilation system — original to the building — fills two large storage rooms and emits a loud constant buzz. Mueller said the pool area, which was part of an addition in 1997, has its own climate control systems. A new heating and cooling system, included in the project plans, would take up less space and run more efficiently.

The school doesn’t currently have air conditioning, meaning classrooms can exceed 80 degrees during the warmer months, Mueller said.

If any adjustments are made to the building, certain areas have to be addressed to comply with current laws. For example, the ramp leading from the main level to the media center and down to the lower level doesn’t meet requirements set by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Sprinklers also would have to be installed to meet fire code.

Other areas in line for upgrades include lighting, ceiling tiles and the electrical and plumbing systems.

Modernizing spaces

One of the biggest challenges for teachers has to do with the school’s lack of solid or insulated walls, allowing noise to travel from classroom to classroom. The walls instead are either metal and lacking insulation or accordion curtains that hang from the ceiling and leave gaps above and below.

That causes the classroom environments to “combat themselves,” Schwarz said.

“A middle school learning environment at times can be very noisy, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing — that’s kids collaborating with each other — and so, we just really need instructional spaces and classrooms that support today’s learning practices,” Mueller said.

She said to do that, the spaces need to be able to serve both small group instruction and large group instruction with flexible furniture.

The student services area poses another challenge for counselors trying to address sensitive or personal issues with students. A window in one office extends past the wall into the next office, creating a gap large enough to slip papers from one office to the other — and preventing confidential discussions if the other room is in use.

A classroom sits on the other side of student services, sharing another wall.

“If a child has an outburst over there (in student services) … then this room gets evacuated at times,” Mueller said.

Expanding common areas

The lack of enough space is a recurring issue throughout the building, according to administrators.

With a cafeteria that can’t hold even half of the roughly 700 students, the school has three lunch periods, forcing some students to eat earlier or later than ideal, Mueller said. On top of that, they have to spend much of their lunch time waiting in line because the kitchen is too small to accommodate that number.

The auditorium can hold a maximum of 250 students, so all-school assemblies aren’t viable, Schwarz said. Similarly, the gym, band and choir spaces all are too small to accommodate student interest.

Schwarz said the lack of space poses problems on a daily basis, as does the ramp.

“When we have a class change, when all the students are moving, this is a problematic area,” he said of the ramp. Several times during the school day, the ramp causes “some significant traffic congestion.”

Given the changes happening in a middle schooler’s development, Mueller added the congestion can have a behavioral effect.

“I think when they’re on top of each other, as they are in this building, that can lead to more outbursts and reactions that make us have to respond,” she said.