We sincerely appreciate our community’s consideration of the referendum question for the Oconto Falls School District that appeared on the ballot Tuesday, April 5, 2022. We have learned that the measure fell short of being approved by a majority of voters.
As a result, OFSD will not move forward with the proposed plan to build a new middle school to replace the aging Washington Middle School. The plan would have also provided new secured entrances, addressed traffic flow issues, and a host of other capital improvements throughout the school district.
We know that our facility needs will not go away. We will begin the process to find a new solution to these needs—one our community can support.
We will share more information on next steps in the future. Once again, thank you for your consideration and support.
Planning for the Future of Our School Facilities
On Tuesday, April 5, 2022, residents of the Oconto Falls School District will vote on a referendum question. If approved, the referendum would allow the district to address its most pressing facility needs while providing our taxpayers with great value.
While our buildings have been well-maintained over the years, there are a number of deferred maintenance needs across our schools. These needs go beyond what the district is able to cover through its operational budget on a yearly basis. Additionally, because the schools are old, they pose significant challenges when it comes to technology.
By acting now, we believe we can address these needs in a way that will ensure a bright future for our students. We aim to continue to provide excellent learning environments for students now and in the years to come.
The Proposed Plan
If the referendum is approved, the district would build a new middle school on a 90-acre parcel of land adjacent to both Oconto Falls Elementary School and Oconto Falls High School. The building would replace the current Washington Middle School.
The referendum would also provide new secured entrances for all of the district’s schools, along with the installation of efficient LED lighting that will ultimately pay for itself. The referendum will address traffic flow issues at Oconto Falls Elementary School, separate bus traffic from parent traffic and improve safety.
The cost would be $49.9 million, including $31 million for the middle school.
This plan came about through a robust, community-driven process to assess and prioritize the district’s needs, consider various options, and find a solution that meets the current and future needs of our students and community.
We invite you to learn more about the district’s facility needs, the process we used to find a solution, and the proposed plan residents will vote on Tuesday, April 5.
Please take the opportunity to view the informational video below and view the FAQs provided on this site.
UPDATE 7: Referendum Vote Reminder
REMINDER! On Tuesday, residents will vote on a proposed referendum for the Oconto Falls School District.
UPDATE 6: Washington Middle School Tour – March 28, 6:00 PM
UPDATE 5: Oconto Falls Elementary Traffic – Aerial Footage
During our public engagement activities we’ve received questions regarding the parent pickup traffic flow at Oconto Falls Elementary School. The video below provides an overhead view of traffic on Farm Road entering the Oconto Falls Elementary campus to pick up students on the north side of the building.
UPDATE 4: Conceptual Building Plans
The images below are conceptual plans for the proposed improvements to Abrams Elementary, Oconto Falls Elementary, and Oconto Falls High School. The new middle school plan is also a conceptual plan based upon recent, similar builds, yet it does not necessarily reflect the shape or size of what will be built. If the referendum is approved, the district will work together with Nexus Solutions and the task force committee to develop a solidified plan specific to the needs of Oconto Falls Public Schools now and in the future.
*Click any image below for an enlarged view of all plans. The enlarged plans may take considerable time to load as the file size is large.
UPDATE 3: Referendum Listening Session – March 8, 6:00 PM
Oconto Falls Public Schools would like to extend sincere thanks to all who attended the referendum listening session at District Office on March 8. It was a full house, and community members asked engaging, important questions. Significant questions that are not already in the frequently asked questions section of the referendum site will be added in the upcoming days. If you would like to ask a question yourself, please click THIS LINK and complete the form.
UPDATE 2: Facilities Assessment
UPDATE 1: Panther Press – Referendum 2022 Edition
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are answers to some common questions about the district’s facility needs and the solution that will appear on the ballot April 5, 2022. If you have any further questions, we encourage you to contact us.
1. What are the district’s facility needs?
Although our buildings have been well-maintained over the years, the Oconto Falls School District has pressing facility and deferred maintenance needs that we must address soon. These needs go beyond what the district is able to cover through its operational budget on a yearly basis.
In addition, because the schools are old, they pose significant problems when it comes to technology. For example, some of the technology closets that hold computer servers and other technology infrastructure are located in already-small classrooms.
The bottom line is that the district’s facility challenges are already negatively affecting the quality of education we can deliver to students.
2. What are the facility needs at Washington Middle School?
Although Washington Middle School was built well for what teaching and learning looked like decades ago, the fact is that it no longer meets the needs of a modern, 21st-century educational experience. The building has numerous facility and capacity challenges that, if left unaddressed, threaten the level of quality education we can provide to our students.
These challenges include:
- Parts of the building are now more than 100 years old and have significant structural needs.
- The building has inefficient HVAC systems and a boiler that dates back to 1953. In fact, the district must purchase replacement parts for the boilers on eBay.
- Due to uneven air conditioning in the building, there are makeshift “tech closets” in classrooms to ensure technology does not overheat in the warmer months. This takes away valuable space for student learning and interrupts student learning when timely technology work needs to be completed in the closets.
- Last November, a burst steam pipe underground caused the school to lose heating in parts of the building for several weeks.
- The school’s roof needs considerable repairs.
Additionally, Washington is built on a constricted, five-acre parcel near downtown Oconto Falls. The lack of green space limits opportunities for student learning around the building.
There are also significant safety concerns when it comes to student pickup and drop-off, along with traffic flow challenges around the building. While the school district has taken considerable steps to address school safety, including modifications to the building, there is still a significant need for a more secure front entrance.
We are proud that we have used the building to its full potential over the course of many years. However, we believe it is time to make an investment in the future of our middle school.
3. How much would it cost to bring Washington Middle School up to code?
While we have done our very best to maintain Washington Middle School, a recent facilities study indicated that it could cost $26 million to bring the building up to code.
If we were to fix everything that needs to be addressed in the school, the cost would be about 85 percent of the amount to build a new school. It is important to note that after those projects were finished, we would still have a building with structures that are more than 100 years old and located on a lot without any green space.
4. What are the facility needs at the two elementary schools?
There are a number of deferred maintenance needs across our schools, beyond our needs at Washington Middle School. These needs go beyond what the district is able to cover through its operational budget on a yearly basis.
The newest school in the district—Oconto Falls Elementary School—is now 25 years old. Given that our schools are commercial buildings with immense traffic through them each day, the time has come for items to be replaced or repaired in each building.
At Abrams Elementary, the needs include enhancing safety and security by remodeling the main office in a manner that requires visitors to enter into the main office before gaining access to the school. The school also needs to replace its fire alarm system and add an emergency generator. In terms of learning spaces, Abrams has a need for remodeled special education spaces, collaborative learning spaces, cafeteria/commons, student services areas, and kitchen spaces.
Abrams also has deferred maintenance needs related to LED lighting, the replacement of the gym roof, upgraded heating, and repairs to floors, ceilings, walls, and doors.
At Oconto Falls Elementary, safety and security needs include improved traffic flow and parking, as well as enhancing safety and security by remodeling the main office in a manner that requires visitors to enter into the main office before gaining access to the school.
Oconto Falls Elementary also has a need for a new kitchen/cafeteria space and collaborative learning spaces. Deferred maintenance needs at OFES include LED lighting, roof replacement, upgraded heating, and repairs to doors and flooring.
5. What process has the district used to examine and prioritize its facility needs?
The Oconto Falls School District has engaged in a years-long process to plan for the future of our school facilities.
In 2015, the district began working with Baird Financial to conduct thorough budget forecasting. In addition to examining our financial needs, we conducted an internal audit of our facilities. Over the years, the district has balanced its budget by reducing costs as much as possible, while minimizing the impact of those reductions on student learning. As a result, some maintenance needs in our buildings were deferred.
Through our budget forecasting about five years ago, district leaders determined that we would be able to pay off debt from previous referendums and potentially place a capital referendum on the ballot in a way that would minimize the impact on our property taxpayers.
In fact, we have been able to pay down that debt more quickly than anticipated, thanks to sound fiscal management and the community’s support of an operational referendum. Over the past six years, the district has grown its long-term capital improvement fund (known as Fund 46) to $2.6 million, allowing us to address unexpected facility needs that could arise in the future. Our general fund also now has $2.6 million in it.
In 2020, the district engaged in a specific audit to determine the most pressing facility needs.. The audit found that we have about $74 million in facility needs across our schools. Addressing the most immediate needs and our needs at the middle school would cost about $49.9 million.
After placing the district on better financial footing, we moved forward with a community task force to examine the district’s facility needs, explored potential solutions, and made a recommendation to the Board of Education.
6. What was involved in the task force’s work?
In 2021, a facilities-focused task force was created to evaluate the district’s needs and to develop solutions. Ultimately, task force members agreed that it was most cost-effective to create a new middle school. In addition, some additional targeted facility solutions were developed.
Over the course of several months, task force members examined our facility needs and explored numerous potential solutions. At the end of this process, the task force presented a recommendation to the Board of Education.
7. Have the district and board listened to the community about addressing its facility needs?
Yes. In addition to the work of our community task force, the district and board sought community feedback through listening sessions and two surveys. Hundreds of community members have had the opportunity to weigh in with their input and feedback on how we can best move forward to address our needs.
Additionally, district leaders have spoken with our teachers and staff to gain their initial input on what they believe are the district’s most pressing facility needs.
There will be more opportunities for our community members and staff to participate in the process in the weeks ahead—right up to election day.
8. What is the proposed plan to address the district’s facility needs?
If the April 5 referendum is approved by voters, the Oconto Falls School District would build a new middle school on a 90-acre parcel of district-owned land adjacent to both Oconto Falls Elementary School and Oconto Falls High School.
The referendum would also provide new secured entrances for all of the district’s schools, along with the installation of efficient LED lighting that will ultimately pay for itself. The referendum will address traffic flow issues at Oconto Falls Elementary School, separate bus traffic from parent traffic, and improve safety.
Furthermore, an approved referendum would allow for updating building systems, including fire alarms and updating air handlers. The district would also use the funds to address outdated systems and other facility needs in our elementary schools and highschool.
The total amount of the referendum would be $49.9 million, including $31 million for the middle school.
9. Why was this particular site selected for the new middle school?
The proposed site is located on a 90-acre parcel of land adjacent to both Oconto Falls Elementary School and Oconto Falls High School. It will provide our middle school with more space than is available with our current building, opening up greater learning opportunities for students.
The site features a pond, field, and wooded area, with the potential to provide a wide variety of environmental and agricultural education opportunities. There’s also much more space for athletic fields and a playground.
Additionally, the site has close proximity to two other schools, creating more of a “campus” feel for students, staff, and families.
10. Wouldn’t it be more cost-effective to renovate the existing Washington Middle School?
Due to the age of Washington Middle School, the cost of the renovations necessary to bring the building up to code would be 85% of the cost of building new. With this in mind, rebuilding represents a more cost-effective solution.
11. Didn’t the community pass a referendum last year?
In April 2021, residents approved an operational referendum for the Oconto Falls School District. That referendum was targeted toward maintaining programs and services and general operating needs. It did not address long-term district facility needs.
The question on the ballot in April 2022 is a capital referendum. If approved, the district would be able to move forward with addressing its most critical facility needs.
It is important to note that the two operational referendums passed by the community in 2017 and 2021. However, while those referendums allowed the district to address urgent issues, big-ticket items such as major construction can only be done through a capital referendum.
12. How would an approved referendum affect the school district’s portion of property taxes?
If approved, the referendum would have an estimated tax impact on the school district’s portion of property taxes of about $10 per every $100,000 of assessed property value in our district.
The school district has been a responsible steward of taxpayer dollars and has looked for ways to reduce the impact on taxpayers as we maintain our facilities. However, we are at a point at which we cannot delay addressing the middle school’s facility needs any longer.
The chart below shows historically that the school district has maintained a stable mill rate even after past referenda due to conservative forecasting and responsible budgeting. The chart also projects that the mill rate will remain stable if the capital referendum on April 5 is approved.
13. Why is now the right time to address these facility needs?
The board believes that, as a group of elected officials, it must protect the district’s assets—including our buildings.
Moving forward now would also enable the district to leverage historically low interest rates, reducing the total costs of construction and renovations. Additionally, construction costs are expected to continue to rise in the future, making the need to move forward now even more important.
14. If the referendum is approved, what would happen to the current Washington Middle School once the new school is built?
This has been a key consideration of our community task force, the Board of Education, and district leaders. Just like we have used a community-driven process to develop the solution on the ballot, we would use a sound process to determine what to do with the current middle school building once it is no longer in use.
Specifically, we would engage our community to explore the best possible solutions to the current middle school building, including potentially selling it. We are committed to ensuring the building remains useful to the community and does not become an eyesore.
15. What would happen if the referendum is not approved by voters?
If the referendum is not approved, district staff will continue to work hard to provide a top-quality educational experience to our students in our current facilities. However, the district’s facility and deferred maintenance needs would not go away.
If the community does not support the proposal on the ballot in April, work would begin immediately to find an alternative solution to our facility needs.
16. Would the new middle school building have air conditioning? Could A/C units be upgraded in other buildings?
Yes, air conditioning is included in the $31 million budget for the new middle school building.
The district aims to be as efficient as possible with the funds generated through a potential referendum. While the budget does not include A/C upgrades at other schools, it is possible that funds could be left over for A/C once the targeted renovations have been completed. The district also hopes to be able to use its operational budget to finish up needed A/C upgrades across the schools in the near future.
17. Have the district and board considered the needs of property taxpayers?
Yes. Through sound financial planning, the district and board are able to present a solution that minimizes the impact on our local property taxpayers as much as possible.
In recent years, district leaders worked hard to position OFSD in a way that allowed it to address its facility issues. This included paying down debt and cutting operating expenditures, including laying off nine staff members to balance the budget. The community also passed a recurring operational referendum in April 2021.
Additionally, the district established Fund 46, a facilities maintenance fund to help ensure long-term facility maintenance efforts can continue in a sustainable manner.
18. What is the question that will appear on the ballot?
The Board of Education has approved the following question for the community’s consideration on April 5, 2022:
BE IT RESOLVED…For the purpose of paying the cost of constructing a new middle school; creating a new cafeteria at Oconto Falls Elementary and repurpose space for a cafeteria at Abrams Elementary; improvements to the elementary and high school buildings and grounds including remodeling, renovating, and repurposing space; secure entrances; traffic flow parking lot improvements; addressing deferred maintenance on roofs, lighting, floors, doors, heating/ventilation and other building systems; and equipment acquisition related to said projects.
19. Where can residents vote on Tuesday, April 5?
20. Has the school district thought about architectural design costs and/or wastewater costs in the referendum plan?
Yes. The middle school portion of the proposed referendum constitutes $29,588,000 for the building and $911,500 for athletic fields. The budget listed above for a new middle school includes the following:
- Architectural and design fees
- Site Work Costs
- Civil Engineering Work
- Utility Hookup
- Water/Wastewater Costs
- Municipal Fees
- Building approximately 85,000 sq ft. (10,000 sq ft bigger than the current building.)
- Furniture and Fixtures
- Parking Lots
- Technical Infrastructure (cabling, switches, wireless access points), we do NOT include computers or white boards.
Inflation was also a consideration in our planning.