By Brian Misfeldt | Superintendent School District of Bloomer
The School District of Bloomer Board of Education recently completed the first stage of planning for the future of the Bloomer High School as part of the district’s 2015-2020 Strategic Plan. The process began in January of 2019 when the board began discussions related to information which would need to be collected to make an informed decision regarding the future of the high school. While the board reviewed multiple documents the discussions primarily focused on the district’s Facility Site Master Plan, debt capacity, and condition of the current high school building.
The School District of Bloomer’s Facility Site Master Plan was initially developed in 2000 when the district passed a referendum to acquire land and construct a new middle school. With the passage of this referendum, the district purchased land on the north side of town which is the current site of the district’s elementary and middle school buildings as well as the district’s athletic complex. Included in this purchase is land which is designated as the future site for a new Bloomer High School. As the board reviewed the Facility Site Master Plan, they also engaged in very early discussions with SDS Architects who designed the elementary and middle school buildings. SDS estimated that construction of a new high school would cost approximately $45 million dollars in the current economy, but cautioned that this is a very rough estimate and many factors such as design and inflation could impact the cost of future construction.
After reviewing the Facility Site Master Plan and establishing a rough estimate for the construction a new high school, the board began to evaluate the district’s current debt load and available debt capacity. School districts in the state of Wisconsin are able to borrow up to 10 percent of the District’s equalized property value. In the case of the School District of Bloomer, the allowable debt capacity is $57,933,351.70 based on the fall of 2018 property valuation. The District currently has $24,325,000 of principal general obligation debt remaining, most of which is from the construction of the elementary school and addition to the middle school. Accordingly, the district has an unused margin of indebtedness of approximately $33,608,351. This amount will increase over time as debt is paid off and due to increasing property values. The district’s unused margin of indebtedness and debt payment schedule is such that the district could run a referendum for a new high school; however, the impact on tax payers would be significant. Currently tax payers in the district pay approximately $3.75 per $1,000 dollars of property value as a result of referendum approved debt; the passage of a referendum to construct a new high school would nearly double that amount.
While the Facility Site Master Plan and fiscal impact of the construction of a new school were important factors, the most important consideration in the process was the condition of the current building and need. As part of the District’s maintenance planning, the Board contracted with CESA 10 to conduct a study of the high school and middle school buildings. Although the primary purpose of this study was to assist in the development of short and long term maintenance planning the final report also provided guidance as to options related to renovation of the current building and construction of a new building.
In June of 2019, CESA 10 conducted a facility audit of Bloomer High School and Bloomer Middle School to determine the condition of the buildings and assist in the process of developing both short and long term maintenance plans. The study focused on four primary areas: safety/health/compliance issues, materials in critical condition or lacking functional condition, projects with long-term return on investment, cost/payback considerations. The CESA 10 report (which is available in full on the School District of Bloomer Website) noted that while the high school has been well maintained, much of the infrastructure of the building has exceeded its life expectancy. The report indicated that approximately $15,000,000 in renovation costs would be needed in the next five to ten years. Furthermore, the report noted that these renovations would only bring the building into compliance while maintaining an educational environment consistent with a 1960s facility. Additionally, the renovations would not address space concerns as the current site does not allow for new additions to be considered.
While the report identified many areas which needed to be addressed the School Board did not feel that the situation was as dire as the audit may indicate. There were a number of items included in the report that school board members did not feel would be included in any maintenance or renovations of the current building. For example, the report included over $2,000,0000 for renovations to the high school’s commons area to create a suitable auditorium. While the school board supports an auditorium for the district they felt that this would be something included in a new building and would not be addressed in the current facility. Additionally, the board felt that many of the items identified could be addressed through basic maintenance while still maintaining a safe and adequate learning environment. Board president, Brady Jenneman said that the priority moving forward will be addressing items that involve providing a safe environment for students and staff.
Through the analysis of relevant materials, the school board determined that adding on to or significantly renovating the current high school building would not be possible due to limitations of the current site. Furthermore, since an addition was not possible, the board felt that making a significant investment into a building which at best can be brought into compliance while maintaining a 1960s learning environment was not a responsible option. The board instead has chosen to use the CESA 10 facility audit to guide the maintenance of the current high school building over the next 5 to 8 years. The district will maintain the current building and ensure that all students are safe and educated in an appropriate learning environment while at the same time paying down existing debt. As debt is paid off the District will reconsider the future of the high school building and make plans for a new school to be located on a consolidated campus with the existing elementary and middle school buildings. While setting this plan in motion board vice president, Chris Conard, cautioned that while we can maintain the current high school building for another 5-8 years, “There will be a time that we need to make some tough decisions about the future of our high school.”