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Viroqua School Board receive updates on facility referendum, early learning center and Community Conversation

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The Viroqua School Board received an update on the facility referendum, the early learning center and the Community Conversation at its meeting, Nov. 21.

District Administrator Tom Burkhalter said both facility referendum questions passed on Nov. 8 with just under 57% voting “yes” for Question 1 (the proposed base plan, which is an estimated $17 million) and 59% voting “yes” for Question 2 (the tech ed expansion project, which is for $3.5 million).

Burkhalter said the community’s support was outstanding. He praised the efforts of HSR Associates, Inc. and Miron Construction for helping the school district create a plan from the very beginning that was “based on listening.” “This was well-reflected and essentially we asked the community the questions that they wanted us to ask.”

He said the yearlong design phase is set to begin the week of Nov. 28. He added that the plan is to have the project go to bid in December of 2023. “It could change based on the design process and planning process; it’s a tentative plan now. After that, construction will begin.”

The first question was for the proposed base plan. The base plan would include the following projects at the elementary school site: Expand the commons area to create a secure entry next to the office; reconfigure traffic flow by creating dedicated bus loop and a separate student pick-up/drop-area; create additional classrooms by relocating the district office; renovate underutilized areas into flexible learning spaces for both small- and large-group instruction; add hallway storage for students and staff; repair entrance columns and repaint the area; replace air circulation equipment, as needed in renovated areas; and add age-appropriate bathrooms for elementary students in 4K and kindergarten.

The base plan would also include the following projects at the middle school-high school site: Create a secure entry to better control visitor access; improve ADA accessibility with ramps/elevators and updated restrooms; renovate the tech ed area (agriculture, woods and metals) to help prepare students for high-demand jobs; add classrooms to support growing programs; replace aged and rusting exterior doors, as needed; and update drainage systems to improve stormwater management.

The second question was for a tech ed expansion project. In addition to the base plan work, this project would expand the tech ed classrooms and labs and support additional programming.

Early learning center

Burkhalter said work is underway at the early learning center, and when people drive past the site on Nelson Parkway they will see lots of cars and trucks parked on the property.

“Three weeks ago Monday was the first day of demolition. We did a walkthrough Tuesday afternoon and the south wing was gutted — walls that needed to be down were down and the plumbing was out,” he said. Burkhalter said the job site is clean and organized.

The project is still on track for a March timeline to open the center. Burkhalter said Sharon Engh, the center’s director, has started the hiring process, and two teacher and two assistants are on board.

Community Conversation

The Community Conversation was held Nov. 10-12 in the Viroqua Middle/High School commons, and was led by Drew Howick of Howick Associates based in Madison. The community visioning event was originally scheduled for November 2021, but was postponed twice. Howick Associates was contracted in May of 2021 to help with the district visioning process.

Burkhalter said more than 80 people participated in the event and there were 60 people in attendance every day. “Just with the conversations alone, over 720 hours were gifted to us by the community and focused on what the next five, 10 years will look like here at Viroqua Area Schools.”

He said the first night focused on the school district’s past, the second night focused on trends and on Saturday morning there were presentations by different groups and discussion on what the district will look like in 10 years. The information collected was narrowed down to five priorities.

Board member Matt Tubbin said it was a great process and a thoughtful process, where people could voice their opinions.

Board member Vicki Koppa said she was happy to hear the community voicing what the board wants for the district’s students. “It made me feel we’re aligned with the community.”

Board member Kim Littel said the Community Conversation enabled board members to make connections with community members they may not see or connect with normally. “People want similar things for our students.”

Angie Lawrence, board president, said her take was there are a lot of things that are done in the school district people don’t know about. “We need to communicate more what we do in the district.” She said people were engaged. “We all want our kids to be successful and well-rounded.”

Burkhalter said the district will now start the yearlong strategic planning process. He said in November 2023 there will be a reunion for those who participated in the Community Conversation and a discussion about what the school district has done in the past year. “We hope to roll out a strategic plan at that time or at least have a good start on one.”

Angela Cina can be reached at angie.cina@lee.net.

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Vernon County Times editor

Angie Cina is editor of the Vernon County Times. Contact her at 608-637-5616.

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