The Ladysmith School Board continued talks last Wednesday with the goal of holding multiple referendums in fall 2021 to improve facilities and exceed revenue limits.
Board members have interviewed three firms to help with overseeing a planned building project and referendums, but tabled action at the June 17 meeting to study the proposals in more depth. They also wanted to determine what, if any, “green” energy saving initiatives might be included.
With work already completed on converting the Miner Avenue school into an elementary facility, the board is now turning its attention to improving Ladysmith Middle & High School on Edgewood Avenue.
Three firms under consideration to oversee the project are Nexus Solutions, Kraus-Anderson and SitelogIQ, each with offices in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Nexus recently helped with the Miner Avenue school conversion and completed a facility study for the district, which could help reduce the second phase of building improvements. The other firms have not done prior work for the district, which could result in added expenses due to starting from scratch.
Interim School District Administrator Mike Cox told the board it is difficult to compare the proposals because Nexus already has done work for the district. He added no matter which firm is hired, the construction work will be bid out to contractors which will help control building costs.
“It is kind of hard to compare especially when you have a group that already has done a majority of the facility studies that need to be done. You have another one that has to come in from ground zero. I see those as the biggest difference between the two,” Cox said. “Truthfully, I think it is going to be real similar with any of the three firms you pick.”
All three firms are qualified and their fees are about the same, according to Cox. The difference is mostly what is included in each proposal and which school officials are most comfortable working with on a major project, he said.
A referendum will not be held until at least November 2021. At that time, the board will be closer to paying off past referendum debt. The new referendum debt could be taken on as the old debt is paid off with little or no tax impact.
“You are talking about an analysis of the facility and fixing up this facility with all the repairs that need to be done. That is one part of it, and that will have to go to a referendum because that will be a fairly large number,” Cox said.
Cox told the board the district’s building needs are not the only issue. The district also needs money to operate, he said.
“The other issue is we do not have enough revenue to continue to operate the school as we are now. We can’t tax for it, we are at the revenue cap limit and our costs exceed what our revenue is,” Cox said.
While Nexus already has done work for the district, school officials also have previous positive experience at neighboring districts with Kraus-Anderson. School officials are weighing the benefits of a firm that has worked for the Ladysmith School District and a firm that incoming new administration has worked with successfully elsewhere.
“We are not talking about companies we have a question about whether they can do the job or not. It is who can do the best job for us at obviously the most reasonable cost,” Cox said. “One goes with the other. If you can’t pass the referendum to exceed the revenue cap then what good is it going to do to put a bunch of money into a building. They both have to go through at the same time.”
“It is a little more complicated than just the facility study and getting this building back up to date from a mechanical and structural standpoint It is a big job and an important one for sure,” Cox said.
Board members asked for a list of referendums each firm has helped lead in the state.
Cox called a possible Ladysmith school referendum “a tough sell.”
Cox does not believe tabling and postponing the hiring another month puts the school district at a disadvantage.
An expedited strategic planning process is projected to take 3 months. It will be another 3 months after that to launch a referendum committee.
“Everybody is basically looking at a referendum next year,” School Board President Todd Novakofski said.
“A year from November, then?” school board member Chrysa Ostenso said.
“Yes,” Novakofski said.