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Editorial: Renovated public schools: Pat yourselves on the back

River Falls Journal file photo.

On April 5, 2011, while the Great Recession was still on, a $39-million school levy referendum was narrowly defeated by local voters, 2,805-2,624.

Seven months later on Nov. 8, 2011, in a three-part school levy referendum, two more questions totaling $19 million went down to defeat.

One would have remodeled the newest part of the River Falls Academy to be used primarily by the Renaissance alternative program for high school-age students.

The other would have added cafeteria spaces to free up elementary school gyms; add nine classrooms at Greenwood Elementary so the Montessori program at the River Falls Academy could relocate; replace the portable classrooms at Westside Elementary with regular classrooms; and reconfigure science labs and some classrooms for “team learning” at Meyer Middle School.

However, River Falls voters — by less than one percent — did pass one of the three referendum questions in November 2011. In doing so, they committed more than $19 million worth of their tax dollars.

What did that get them? Results are just now becoming visible as a second and final school construction season ends Aug. 16.

The $19 million payout produced no gleaming new buildings or additions. This taxpayer investment wasn’t glamorous, but it was — and is — sensible and utilitarian.

The finished products at our local schools will be reflected in greater safety, security, physical accessibility for all students, staff and visitors, plus numerous upgrades to mechanical and engineering systems, material replacements such as modern classroom windows that should bring lower energy and repair bills — now and lasting for many years.

Parents will feel more at ease dropping off their grade school children in newly designated zones separate from where buses do the same. Removing asbestos tiles from middle school classrooms along with new ductwork ventilation will provide a healthier environment for students and teachers. Additional electrical circuits will allow for more classroom outlets to better support today’s technology uses.

The status of the River Falls Academy building — where the robust Renaissance and Montessori programs still operate — remains an unresolved issue for the future. But overall, just weeks away from the start of the 2013-14 school year, parents, students and all district residents should feel satisfied about the investment return made by one “yes” referendum vote.