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Top 10: School district referendum work to start in Spring

The River Falls School District has made plans to take down portions of the River Falls Academy building, and a new addition will be added in their place. File photo

Editor's note: This story is part of a series looking back at some of the biggest stories of 2018. Find the rest of the series here: Top Ten 2018.

Work on a set of $48 million River Falls School District referendum projects is set to begin in Spring 2019, according to District Superintendent Jamie Benson. The work is set to be completed by fall of 2020, making it a two-year process.

"We're awful proud and thankful and appreciative of our community's support for our kids, and their education," said Benson in an April interview after the referendum passed.

The referendum included two questions:

Question 1:

"Shall the School District of River Falls, Pierce and St. Croix counties, Wisconsin, be authorized to issue pursuant to Chapter 67 of the Wisconsin Statutes, general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $45,860,000 for the public purpose of paying the cost of a District-wide school building and improvement program consisting of: improving, upgrading, renovating, remodeling, and maintaining various school facilities, including Greenwood, Rocky Branch, Westside and Montessori Elementary schools, Meyer Middle School, River Falls High School and the transportation and maintenance buildings; constructing and equipping additions to Greenwood, Rocky Branch, Westside and Montessori Elementary Schools for classrooms, multi-purpose/flexible space and cafeteria/kitchen space; demolition of a portion of the Academy Building and portable classrooms at Westside Elementary School; upgrading technology infrastructure; site and athletic facility improvements and acquiring furnishings, fixtures and equipment?"

Question 2:

"Shall the School District of River Falls Pierce and St. Croix Counties, Wisconsin, be authorized to issue pursuant to Chapter 67 of the Wisconsin Statutes, general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $2,100,000 for the public purpose of paying the cost of school facility improvements consisting of the addition of artificial turf and lighting to outdoor fields, parking and other improvements?"

The district's architects, Ayres and Associates, have completed initial floor plan schematic designs. Kraus Anderson, the district's construction management firm, is working on an estimated cost analysis, to predict if the district will see affordable results from the upcoming bidding process.

So far only a few projects have been done, such as resurfacing two smaller parking lots and the high school tennis court.

The rest remains to be completed, including the district's plans for the Academy building.

"We are making progress with our promise to make a "respectful exit" from the older sections of the Academy building," Benson said. "With the help of the city of River Falls Historical Preservation Commission (HPC) we have identified specific items to be preserved from the 1920's portion of the Academy building."

The district is working with the HPC to identify memorabilia and architectural features that will be preserved.

"A few items will actually be integrated into the new addition to be added onto the 1990's section," Benson said. "The old trophy case will be placed at our current high school; other things will be saved for the silent auction."

Those items include things like wood trim, doors, public address speaker boxes, bricks, stone signage, etc.

Benson said an open house is planned for videotaping of alumni testimonials, and a silent auction for people to bid on some of the above items. The date is yet to be determined, but will likely be in early spring.

While construction takes place on the Academy building over the next school year, Benson said, the district has found a different place to bring the Montessori students for the that year.

"The district and city are in the process of finalizing a lease agreement for us to use the River Falls Journal building for all of the 2019-20 school year," Benson said. "The Montessori school will operate at that site due to safety concerns and the magnitude of demolition and construction taking place at the Academy building.

"The city and district find this to be a 'win-win' situation for taxpayers," Benson said. "The city is giving the district a very reasonable lease rate while bringing in revenue and avoiding utility costs for the school year."

Benson said this also saves the district from renting a set of portable classrooms, which would be more expensive than this option.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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