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Task force convenes SCC facilities evaluation

More than 50 people including parents, teachers, administrators, school board members and alumni filled the elementary school library in Roberts Monday night to participate in the newly formed St. Croix Central School District Facilities Task Force (FTF). Spearheaded by Superintendent Tim Widiker, along with Craig Uhlenbrauck of Miron Construction and Vaughn Dierks of Wold Architects, the task force is scheduled to meet five more times before making a recommendation to the school board at its June 16 meeting.

Widiker began the evening by explaining what the task force is charged with:

  •  Evaluating a comprehensive building study of all three SCC buildings (elementary, middle and high schools)
  •  Prioritizing the facility and educational programing needs of the schools
  • Developing potential solutions to address those needs
  •  Assessing the financial implications of these preliminary solutions
  •  Submitting a written report to the the SCC School Board summarizing its findings along with the pros and cons of each preliminary solution
  •  Serve as information providers and key communicators to the SCC community throughout the process.

“A key part of this process is making sure the information is factual and issues are not misrepresented,” Widiker said.

Uhlenbrauck walked the audience through the timeline.

“In a process like this we want to work backward. Right now the district and the board have targeted November for a potential referendum. At this point they have not adopted any resolutions, they don’t have any options that they’ve settled on; this is a work in progress,” he said.

The proposed timetable has the FTF meeting five times leading up to the June 16 school board meeting at which time they hope to present their recommendations to the board. The board then has two months to review and tweak the recommendations prior to approving a resolution by Aug. 23, 75 days before the referendum scheduled for Nov. 4. Uhlenbrauck also suggested the FTF consider conducting a phone survey in May to sample several hundred residents for their take on the recommendations prior to presenting them to the school board. He emphasized their goal should be to disseminate the information and educate as broad an audience as possible prior to the referendum  to have the best chance for success.

“Ideally we want to have that concept adopted so that the administration and the planning team can start putting information together so that when school starts in September they can start promoting this to the general public. That September, October, November time frame will be a public information campaign,” Uhlenbrauck said.

Using floor plans from each of the schools, Dierks of Wold Architects explained that capacity is defined as the way classrooms are used. The difference between theoretical and actual capacity often comes down to the difference between physical use and programmatic use. Both the elementary and middle schools use a homeroom model in which students remain relatively stationary with the majority of their classes taking place in the same room. The high school uses a more mobile model in which students travel to different classrooms for different classes. According to Dierks’ analysis, the elementary has a theoretical capacity of 604 students versus an actual student population of 629; the middle school theoretical 538 versus actual 427 and the high school theoretical 480 versus actual 370.  

Principals Steve Sanders, Scott Woodington and Glenn Webb, along with Director of Special Education Patricia Basche and Dean of Students Jeremy Kerg, presented detailed lists and explanations in making their case for the physical and programmatic needs for each of their buildings. Details of those lists can be found in the minutes from the meeting on the district website.

The buildings all shared some needs in common, including additional security and more classroom space, particularly for technology and science programs. The wish list included an auditorium for both the middle school and high school and new gyms for the elementary and high schools. Sanders made the case for an additional parking lot at the elementary school and revisited the idea of incorporating 4K into the elementary building, making construction of a second building a consideration.

The discussion revealed several larger questions that could prove central to the FTF investigation. Can relocating grades to other buildings solve some of the space issues?  Examples included moving 4K into the elementary building, moving fifth grade back into the elementary building and moving eighth grade into the high school. Determining which locations will prove to be the more appropriate and effective learning environment will help answer those questions in the coming months.

How big a role can creative scheduling play in solving space needs? So far, making multiple use of classrooms and other rooms has kept schools operating but creative scheduling often ties up rooms leaving them unavailable for their intended purposes.

Where will the landlocked middle school expand to? Both the elementary and high school have room to expand, but the middle school has far fewer options for expansion.

How will tax dollars in Roberts and Hammond translate to buildings in each community?  

These are just a few of the questions the FTF will tackle in the coming months.

Widiker presented highlights from a study of the district conducted by the Applied Population Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison demonstrating that the district is indeed growing. In the last 10 years, the student population has grown by 498 students or 46 percent.  The complete report is available on the district website.

By evening’s end, participants had provided leadership with numerous suggestions including the need to educate the general public as to how the buildings actually function. They also warned against underestimating the impact of the Stillwater bridge and suggested emphasizing wider community use of facilities, like a new auditorium, might help sell the idea. They emphasized any improvements should ultimately be measured by how well they meet student and faculty needs and serve the primary goal to provide a top-notch comprehensive education.

“Great to see the size and diversity of the group tonight, because ultimately the community has to speak and come up with these solutions. Next meeting we’ll sit down and start to come up with potential solutions and we’ll have a representative here from Baird to talk about the different tax scenarios because a lot of decisions come down to the tax impact,” Uhlenbrauck said.

“I am so happy with the turnout. I’m really happy with the investment shown here tonight. I know we are a month or two behind where we would have ideally started, but I wanted to get Miron and Wold onboard together and take our time and do it right. We’re talking millions of dollars and tens of years affecting kids’ educations,” Widiker added.       

The next meeting of the FTF is scheduled for Tuesday, April 22, at the middle school. Tours begin at 5:30 p.m. prior to the meeting, which starts at 6 p.m. For more information visit the district’s website at

Sarah Nigbor

Sarah J. Nigbor serves as a regional editor for RiverTown Multimedia, a position she began in April 2017. She joined RiverTown Multimedia in October 2013 as a news reporter for the New Richmond News, before being appointed editor of the Pierce County Herald in Febraury 2015. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Spanish and French in 2001. She completed a minor in journalism in 2004. 

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