N-O-W referendum tentatively set for April

Note: This article is a revised version of what appeared in the County Line’s Oct. 20 print issue. Since then, the N-O-W School District has amended its projected referendum amount from $24.9 million to $23 million.

By SARAH PARKER | County Line Editor

The Norwalk-Ontario-Wilton School District intends to ask voters in April 2023 to approve a total project for no more than $23 million, which would finance wide-ranging improvements to its facilities.

And, according to Lisa Voisin of Baird, a financial services company, the district could do so with no increase to the district’s mill rate (or the amount of tax payable per $1,000 of property valuation). 

Because the district has prepaid some of its existing debt to prevent its mill rate from dropping further than it has, N-O-W could fill in that amount with a new referendum. 

“There is a cost,” Voisin said. “But there is no increase over the previous year … Our debt is dropping off next year, so we could levy for a new debt payment without any new increase over the previous year.”

Also, the district refinanced its 2010 referendum debt in 2020, which resulted in a savings of about $800,000 in interest costs. The last payment for that debt is set for 2030. 

The estimated mill rate for 2023 is $8, and the final figure will be approved at the annual meeting and budget hearing on Monday. In other words, the owner of a $200,000 property (based on equalized valuation) would pay $1,600 in school taxes. Other components make up a property owner’s tax bill, including obligations from the owner’s municipality and county, along with taxes directed toward the local technical college. 

The district’s state-imposed debt limit, which reflects 10 percent of the district’s total property valuation, is almost $29 million in all. Minus the remaining 2010 debt, the district could borrow up to $26.5 million. 

The district is working with architect TSP and contractor Market & Johnson. Though the district may ask for up to $24.9 million, it could end up attaching a lower figure to the referendum question, said Superintendent Travis Anderson. 

Additionally, the district already has about $4.2 million in federal funds to apply to the project. The district was one of two Wisconsin schools that were awarded FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grants, receiving $2,043,875. Also, the district will use about $2.2 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) aid. 

Project encompasses many aspects of facilities

The project would result in upgrades to many facets of the school’s facilities. The school’s original 1961 gymnasium (the “Classic Gym”) would be converted to a fine arts center with a refurbished, expanded stage and permanent auditorium seating. 

Also, the band room would be moved to the Classic Gym space that now houses the boys’ locker room. That would allow the school to expand its industrial technology area and create space for auto repair and ag implement repair. The current girls’ locker room off the Classic Gym would house a green room, an office, storage space and a bathroom. 

Also, the agriculture education classroom would be reconfigured to create additional space and an expanded greenhouse, and the school’s science classrooms would be upgraded with new floors and new laboratory counters. 

Off the southern section of the school, an addition would be built that would house a new gymnasium, which would replace the Classic Gym; a fitness center that would be open to the public; a multipurpose room that could be used for adaptive physical education and wrestling; along with locker rooms and restrooms. 

FEMA grant money will go toward that portion of the project, and the space will double as a community tornado safe room designed for 1,048 occupants. FEMA no longer is specifying a dome structure, but rather a precast structure. The gymnasium will be dug into the ground. 

Also, the playground would be upgraded. 

A new, eight-lane track would be constructed where the football field currently lays, with a new football field inside the track perimeter. The district also plans to construct new locker rooms with easy access from the football field. ESSER funds would go toward that aspect of the project. 

Additionally, the district would be able to designate level outdoor space for physical education between the new football field and the bus garage. At present, students use space near Highway 131. 

The district would create new parking to replace the spaces lost by the building expansions. 

Community involvement

In early November, the district will distribute surveys regarding the referendum; those surveys also can be filled out online. 

Also, from January to April, N-O-W will offer staff and community informational sessions on the project’s proposed design, cost and financial impact. 

The district had a meeting with a 40-member facilities team made up of community and staff members on Oct. 3. Anderson said the feedback he had received was “overwhelmingly positive.”

“We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in front of us as a school and community,” Anderson said in his superintendent’s report at Monday’s board meeting. 

If the referendum is approved in April, final bidding and construction will begin in May and June 2023. 

Those who have questions on the referendum can email nowreferendum2023@now.k12.wi.us/.

Other business

• The district is considering replacing its elementary school furnaces and is working with Dan Korn of Complete Control to secure bids, Superintendent Travis Anderson noted in his report. Its goal is to do the project in the summer of 2023. Additonally, Anderson reported, “Thanks again to our maintenance team for doing an excellent job every day!”

• Parent-teacher conferences are set for Thursday, Nov. 11, and Friday, Feb. 12. 

• Anderson thanked the school staff, along with the Village of Wilton and Wilton Police Chief John Stavlo, “for helping ensure the success, safety and enjoying of everyone who attended or participated in the (homecoming) parade,” which was in Wilton this year. 

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