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Aaron Engel: Should the district build a consolidated high school? Share your feedback

From the COLLECTION: Superintendent Engel's columns on La Crosse School District facilities planning series
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Would you build a new, modern, state-of-the-art high school in the City of La Crosse for the cost of three cups of coffee?

We want to hear your voices, your interests and your concerns. Please check your mailboxes during the week of May 1 for a copy of our latest facility survey.

We will be asking the residents in the School District of La Crosse if we should build one new consolidated high school at the Trane Technologies office building site on Pammel Creek Road for the cost of $194.7 million. This would have an impact on the tax mill rate of $0.08 or $8 for every $100,000 of property value.

The School District of La Crosse faces significant challenges due to declining enrollment and aging buildings. We need to right-size our facilities to match our projected enrollment, but we can also invest in our students and our community at the same time. Fewer buildings do not mean fewer opportunities for students. What we are proposing will enhance and advance our school district for decades to come.

Our greatest facility need is at the secondary level. Our middle school buildings are all over 80 years old and at the end of their life cycle. By building one new high school, high school students will have access to state-of-the-art facilities that will improve our community for generations. Middle school students will immediately have an upgrade in facilities by moving into high school buildings that are 30 to 40 years newer than the existing middle school buildings.

The district’s building footprint will be vastly reduced by moving from five secondary buildings to three. This will eliminate the $18.5 million of upcoming maintenance liabilities in the three existing middle schools.

With more students and staff in one place, more educational opportunities will be available to students. Students will have access to more advanced placement, dual enrollment, transcripted, and elective classes that do not currently run due to limited enrollments in each building. Additionally, extracurricular activities that do not have enough interest at each school will be able to be supported with more students in one building.

Operational efficiencies are expected to save the school district an estimated $4.5 million annually through consolidation of operations, equipment, and staff. The new high school will be more energy-efficient and reduce utility costs allowing more resources to be allocated to students.

One of the greatest challenges in proposing the concept of one high school for La Crosse is finding the right location. We searched for a centrally located site that was at least 40 acres in size. We initially considered all district-owned property. However, no district sites are large enough to support one consolidated high school.

We then met with City of La Crosse officials and private landowners to explore 11 separate options and determined the best site is the Trane Technologies office building site on Pammel Creek Road. We have not purchased the land but have secured the right to acquire the parcel if voters support a referendum.

Building a high school at the Trane location would take advantage of the existing building to help lower construction costs. Voters would need to approve a $194.7 million referendum to pay for this middle and high school plan.

Due to sound long-range fiscal management, district debt about to be paid off from previous referendums, and current low-interest rates, this project can be accomplished with an $0.08 increase in the tax mill rate. In other words, voter approval of the proposed plan would increase school property taxes by $8 for every $100,000 of property value.

This idea is a big one, but now is the time for big ideas to address our challenges and take advantage of our opportunities to invest in our students, invest in our facilities, and invest in our community. We look forward to your feedback on the upcoming survey.

In the coming weeks, we invite you to join us to learn more about our long-range facility plan during a series of community informational sessions. These sessions will be held on April 27 and May 3 from 6-8 p.m. and hosted at Lincoln Middle School in La Crosse.

For more information on our long-range facility planning work done so far, please visit

Aaron Engel is Superintendent of the School District of La Crosse.


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