Board of Education Approves Expansion of Sunset Ridge Elementary

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MTT News Desk's picture
By: 
Matt Geiger

The Middleton-Cross Plains Area Board of Education on Monday night voted unanimously to move ahead with plans to expand Sunset Ridge Elementary.

The current estimated cost for the project is about $1.39 million, but the  figure won’t firm up until construction bids come back to the school board for review in the spring.

The proposal, which is intended to alleviate overcrowding, calls for a total of four new classrooms, including one for art, one for music, and two for core curriculum.

While a successful referendum in 2012 allows the district to exceed levy limits and spend just under $60 million to expand and upgrade Kromrey Middle School in the City of Middleton and Glacier Creek Middle School in the Village of Cross Plains, the Sunset Ridge project in the Town of Middleton will come out of the district’s existing fund balance.

School board president Ellen Lindgren said the school board pledges to replenish the fund by $75,000 annually after making the withdrawal for new classrooms at Sunset Ridge.

Staff from J.H. Findorff & Son, Inc., which provided the conceptual estimate for the project, was at the meeting to answer the board’s questions.

Tom Wohlleber, the district’s superintendent of business services, advised the board to utilize the fund balance.

“We’ve used this before as a funding mechanism for one-time costs,” he said. Wohlleber said Moody’s, the district’s credit rating agency, views careful usage of the source as “prudent.”

However, Wohlleber cautioned against letting it get too low, saying it should represent at least 15 percent of the district’s annual operating expenditures.

“Certainly Moody’s … gets concerned when you start chipping away at the fund balance,” he stated.

The fund balance is currently just over 15 million, which represents 22.5 percent of this year’s operational expenditures. Removing $1.3 million would leave the percentage at 20.5 percent.

The vote to expand Sunset Ridge was undisputed, but board member Terry Metzger questioned the timing and the funding mechanism.

“Why wasn’t this on the [November 2012] referendum?” he asked. Metzger added: “It just feels uncomfortable having this conversation … not even three months [after the referendum].”

Superintendent Don Johnson said too many projects crowded onto the ballot in a failed 2009 referendum were considered by many to be that initiative’s downfall. Johnson said asking voters for “too much stuff” was a possible “weakness.”

“I think we were pretty cautious about not making the same mistake a second time,” Johnson said.

Bids will come back to the school board in late May or early April. Construction at Sunset Ridge is slated to begin shortly after the end of the current school year.

Wohlleber said the project is “early in the design phase” and there is “still room” to reduce the price tag.

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