Of all the school buildings in the Tomah Area School District, Miller Elementary School sits on the smallest acreage.
The Tomah School Board took a tour of Miller during a special meeting Jan. 6. While the nighttime tour was limited to the interior of the building, the facility’s 2½-acre footprint was a prominent part of the conversation.
“The size of the lot is the most challenging aspect of the building,” said Bradley Simonson, president/CEO of HSR Associates, which conducted a study of the district’s facilities. “The traffic flow is a challenge.”
He said the Department of Public Instruction recommends at least 10 acres, plus an additional acre for every 100 students, for an elementary school facility. While every other elementary school in the district, except LaGrange and Wyeville, falls short of that standard, Miller is the most cramped.
Others said Miller’s location in a residential neighborhood next to two other schools presents challenges, such as parking, traffic flow and snow removal. School district business manager Greg Gaarder said traffic congestion is a major issue before and after school. Buses drop Miller students off at the middle school, and they cross Monroe Street to get to the school.
“The place you don’t want to be around at 8 o’clock or 3:15 is here,” Gaarder said.
Miller principal Diana Lesneski said there isn’t enough parking for the school’s 35 staff members.
“There are times I come back from an (administration) meeting and there’s no place to park,” Lesneski said.
She said some parents come as early as 2:15 p.m. to park before picking up their children.
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Lesneski said the small playground area behind the school is a problem. While the district recently upgraded its playground equipment with the help of private fundraising, the playground slopes sharply toward a fence along Hollister Avenue.
“At the area of the bottom of the hill where children like to play, there are a lot of skinned knees,” she said.
The school has about 260 students, which HSR says is above capacity. The school has storage issues with some items stored in hallways.
The tour went to the building’s lower level, where several classrooms are housed. Gaarder said the area wasn’t designed as instructional space and isn’t handicapped accessible.
Gaarder, however, stressed that Miller, along with other building in the district, is “code compliant.”
“We do what we need to do to ensure are of our spaces are safe,” Gaarder said.
HSR project architect Tim Ruppert said Miller is well maintained and structurally sound.
“It’s not a maintenance conversation,” Ruppert said.
The board plans to use regularly scheduled meetings through May to tour every school building in the district. The next tour will coincide with a Monday, Jan. 13 Facilities Committee meeting at Lemonweir Elementary School.
After the tour, the board went into closed session and hired the Wisconsin Association of School Boards as a consultant in the search for a new superintendent. Former Onalaska superintendent Fran Finco will be in charge of the search.
The board is looking for a new superintendent after Cindy Zahrte announced her retirement effective June 30.
Tomah Journal editor
Steve Rundio can be reached