Ladysmith city officials now know what it might cost to convert the former Ladysmith Elementary School on Lindoo Avenue into a mixed use facility with a community center, affordable housing and possibly commercial space.
Four options were presented at a city hall meeting, Tuesday. About 10 people attended, mostly city and school officials and administration.
Option one would cost about $1.44 million and calls for separating and selling the ground and first floors of the northeast classroom wing of the building. Existing classroom space would be renovated, Toilet rooms would be updated. Kitchen space would be demolished and updated. Fire protection would be added to the existing building. The projected cost includes renovations costing about $800,000 for classroom space, $370,000 for toilet rooms and $50,000 for kitchens. It also includes about $20,000 for new code required fire barriers.
Option two would cost about $1.685 million and calls for demolishing the ground and first floors of the northeast classroom wing of the building. A new exterior wall and stair would be added. Existing classroom space would be renovated. Existing toilet room space would be updated, Kitchen space would be demolished and updated. Fire protection would be added to the existing building. The projected cost includes $800,000 for classroom renovations, $370,ooo for toilet room renovations, $200,000 for fire protection, $160,000 for building demolition, $75,000 for a new exterior wall and stair, $50,000 for kitchen renovations, $20,000 for site restoration and $10,000 for a new code required fire barrier.
Option three would cost about $530,000 for demolition of the entire building, which includes $450,000 for razing and $80,000 for site restoration. The estimated cost of building a new building ranged from $2.19 million to $2.92 million.
A fourth option would be to sell the building outright.
Last year, the Ladysmith Common Council hired the engineering firm Short Elliott Hendrickson to conduct a study of the former elementary school and the former U.S. Army Reserve Center on Summit Avenue. The study is being funded through federal Department of Administration’s Community Development Block Grant program. The goal was to determine which building is best suited for reuse.
The former elementary school and land it is on are owned by the Ladysmith School District, which is currently using the building mostly for traveling team gym space. The school district budgeted $100,000 to operate the building this school year, funded through its Community Service tax fund.
The reserve center is owned by the city, which currently has the vacant building for sale.
Already the building study has zeroed in on the former elementary school with almost no discussion at the meeting of the former reserve center property, which the city is also currently researching as a possible future public works garage.
“We really felt this was the best place for a community center,” SEH Senior Architect Pat Fehrenbach, who added the reserve center really wasn’t seriously looked at.
Positives of the former elementary school included its central location in the city in a residential area with good access to indoor space, outdoor space and recreational facilities. It has an elevator, a gymnasium, multipurpose room with a stage and a nice kitchen. Negatives included its exterior wood frame walls that need repair or replacement and single pane windows. It does not have a sprinkler system, and requires Americans with Disabilities Act upgrades.
Positives of the former reserve center include it is a decades newer structure with a good mix of large spaces and small rooms. It is a well-constructed masonry brick building. Negatives include extensive damage caused by pipes that froze and burst, causing extensive damage to interior finished. It is more isolated on the edge of the city, and is thus more dependent on transportation over being pedestrian friendly.
“It is more cost effective to renovate, but you are still stuck with that old building,” Fehrenbach said. “If you go with a new building you have a little more longevity and less maintenance costs in the future. There are pros and cons to both.”
Three developers — two private and one public — have approached city and school district officials with interested in developing the former school site. A public or non-profit developer likely would not pay property taxes.
“We do see quite a few schools renovated into apartments or assisted living facilities. It is happening quite a bit,” Fehrenbach said.
“One of the [developers] estimated they could probably get 40 apartments in it,” City Administrator Al Christianson said.
There are parking concerns at the former elementary school as its lot now has space for between 40 and 50 vehicles.
The city could be eligible for up to a 50 percent match in CDBG funds to renovate of develop a new community center. This could be as much as $500,000 that the city could be required to match.
“Those funds would be ideal for that,” said SEH Senior Planner Nate Day.
“Probably 50 percent match?” Christianson said.
“Yes,” Day said.
“The local would have to come up with the other 50 percent,” Christianson said.
“Right,” Day said. “The $500,000 the city would invest they could get $1 million.”
The question appears where the match could come from.
The city could tap its Tax Incremental District revenue to fund community center development.
The school would have to remain a school district property for it to be funded through the school district’s Community Service Fund. Also called Fund 80, this is an extra tax levied on all taxpayers in the school district.
Only municipalities and counties are eligible for CDBG funds, not school districts.
“The long term plan is if something didn’t happen within three years we would be demolishing it,” School District Administrator Paul Uhren said.
“Gym and all,” City Attorney Allen Kenyon said.
“Yes,” Uhren said.
Option 1, the least costly option, appears the strongest candidate at this time.
“The city needs to try and find someone interested in building the building for a housing development, and the school board will have to decide if they want to get involved in funding a community center through Fund 80,” city Ald. Brian Groothousen said.
Uhren expressed some support for Option 2 because it razes the oldest part of the building of the city can find someone to lease the remodeled space.
The Ladysmith School Board decided several years ago to remodel its former middle school into an elementary building after it contracted for a similar building analysis. That analysis projected $7.5 million to upgrade and add onto the Lindoo Avenue school and only $4.3 million to upgrade the Miner Avenue school.
Several years ago, Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College approached the school district with a Request for Proposal to lease part of the Lindoo Avenue school. The RFP would have required a fully-functional building with furnished classrooms, labs and Internet, he said. However, when the school district relocated its elementary grades to its Miner Avenue facility much of the Lindoo Avenue building’s furnishings also were relocated. As a result, the former elementary school no longer met the college’s needs.
The major sticking point may not be paying for repurposing either building, but instead how to finance the annual cost of operating such a facility. The elementary school was built in 1958 and the reserve center was built in 1978. School district voters passed a referendum in 2001 to improve and expand the former elementary building.
City officials hope to keep the building renovation cost below $1 million. They also are seeking grant funding up to $500,000 toward renovating either building, which would require a match of similar money from the city.
The targeted project completion date for possible development is 2020.