Voters appeared to back Western Technical College's plan to add students and update facilities with a strong showing of support for the school’s $79.8 million referendum.

As of Wednesday, 53.9 percent of voters also favored Western's referendum, with 209 of 211 precincts reporting.

The referendum earned the endorsement of Monroe County voters 9,579-7,883.

The money will fund six building projects, including remodeling of the college's technology building and the Coleman and Kumm centers. The extra learning space will allow Western to serve an additional 1,000 students by 2020. It will also benefit the region's economy, Western President Lee Rasch said.

"There is a skilled worker shortage, and it's in manufacturing and information technology," Rasch said. "Those are really key areas for us."

Property taxes will increase by about $39 a year on homes worth $100,000.

The referendum covers:

u$32.6 million for an addition to the technology building to combine the school's mechanical and tech programs.

u$26.5 million remodel of Coleman Center to update the 89-year-old space with more efficient, flexible learning areas.

u$10.1 million remodel of the Kumm Center for new health and science facilities.

u$4.9 million for a parking ramp

u$4.1 million expansion of Western's diesel training facilities.

u$1.6 million for a greenhouse near Seventh and Vine street

Western's growth will have a $97 million impact on the regional economy by 2034, according to an economic report by NorthStar Consulting Group. Construction alone will have an estimated economic impact of $112 million by 2016.

"It's going to make a difference," Rasch said.

West Salem resident Bob Severson, 59, said he supported the referendum because the changes will help people learn valuable workplace skills.

"I went there myself ,and I think that's going to be the crux of getting the right training," Severson said.

Western will borrow the money for the building projects, adding to existing debt of about $58 million.

Wisconsin technical colleges can't use referendum dollars for operating costs — unlike school districts — so they are less frequent. Western's last referendum was more than 15 years ago, when 64 percent of voters agreed to pay for a $3 million chunk of the city's Health Science Center.

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