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Solon Springs School Board mulls building referendum

Enrollment numbers have been increasing steadily, and the current facility is getting crowded, officials say.

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District Administrator Frank Helquist points out where a controlled entrance for Solon Springs school could be built on tentative draft forms provided by architect Derrick Capra with Legend Architecture LLC in the school's library media center on Tuesday, July 26. The Solon Springs School Board is considering a building project to provide more class space for students.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram
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SOLON SPRINGS — The Solon Springs School Board is weighing options for improving the current facility to offer more space for learning and additional safety features. The path could lead to a building referendum.

The district’s facilities committee has been discussing the issue for more than a year and has winnowed down a list of 18 building needs, ranging from bathrooms and classroom space to a controlled main entrance and expanded science rooms. School board members provided feedback on which of the needs to prioritize at the July 18 school board meeting. District Administrator Frank Helquist said the next step will be to bring information to the public for comment.

The district’s main building was built in the 1970s. In 1992, Solon Springs voters approved a $3 million building referendum for an addition to the facility. Referendum attempts in 2000 and 2001 for a building addition project failed.

In 2016, the Solon Springs community approved a $500,000 recurring referendum to keep the school, which had been struggling with funding cuts, open. Voter turnout was around 80% for the election, with 74% of the ballots cast in favor of the referendum.

“A quarter million of that was put to bring the school district to even, basically, financially,” Helquist said. “The other half of it we’ve been putting into our long-range maintenance plan, a quarter million. And so it was really a promise to the community, this is where we need to be, but then keep doing improvements and maintain what we have.”

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He pointed to the new playground and the refinished gymnasium floor as examples of how that funding has been used.

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The refinished gymnasium floor at Solon Springs School shines in the light on Tuesday, July 26, 2022. New handicap accessible bleachers will be installed in a few weeks. Facilities projects such as the gym renovation were made possible by a $500,000 recurring referendum Solon Springs voters approved in 2016.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram

Following the referendum, a series of community conversations led to initiatives such as the Solon Springs Educational Foundation, the in-school fitness center and the launch of an array of public charter school options for students. Fall enrollment numbers have increased 21%, from 265 in 2017 to 321 in 2021, according to the district.

“Innovation drives a lot of success,” Helquist said.

An assessment of the building by the facilities committee showed it was too crowded; every space was being overused; and there was a lack of flexible areas for specialists to meet confidentially with students, for staff training or for meetings. Some classrooms are too small and the science rooms are outdated. A more controlled main entrance that would limit direct access to the building would improve school safety.

“The facility here has served us well. We’ve simply outgrown it is the feedback we’re getting from the group,” Helquist said.

The committee initially considered a freestanding stick built structure where the tennis courts currently are, he said. The most recent design concept involves a 15,000 square foot addition to the rear of the building, pushing out the science and technology rooms toward Baldwin Avenue for a gain of about 3,700 square feet and adding a nearly 2,200 square foot space for a controlled main entrance.

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Solon Springs School District Administrator Frank Helquist holds the edges of a tentative draft form created by Legend Architecture LLC that shows a possible addition to the current school building on Tuesday, July 26, 2022 in the school library media center.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram

When asked what the price tag could be, Helquist said the current design could cost close to $14 million, depending on which options were retained.

“The school board and facilities committee ... need some time to think what dollar amount they feel confident going to the public with,” he said, and they want to be thoughtful about the process to ensure it’s the right type of project for the school community.

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The Aug. 8 facilities committee meeting will include input from a financial adviser. Helquist said public meetings are expected to take place in early September.

“We decided going slower is better than doing it faster,” he said. “We hope to have a final decision in late fall.”

The facilities committee meets at 5 p.m. Aug. 8 in the library media center.

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Solon Springs School District Administrator Frank Helquist looks over a 2001 architectural drawing for a proposed addition to the school building on Tuesday, July 26, in the library media center. That building referendum and one in 2000 failed, but the proposed addition is similar to one currently being considered by the school board. Public feedback on the need for more space at the school will be collected this fall.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram

This story was updated at 9 a.m. Aug. 1 with enrollment numbers from the school district. It was originally posted at 7 a.m. July 30.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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As reported by Douglas County Circuit Court.