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Wonder Lake-based Harrison School District 36 completes $6.75M renovation

D-36 completes $6.75M project; D-19 considering its own renovations

Harrison School District 36 has completed a $6.75 million renovation project ahead of the school year, and other districts might follow suit with their own building renovations.

Work at District 36 included the construction of a 27,000-square-foot addition with more gym space and offices.

The district also more than doubled the number of parking spaces and added a kitchen and new bathrooms, which necessitated a new septic system, Superintendent Sue Wings said.

The project took 15 months to complete. In fall 2016, the district began meeting with developers and land architects. Work commenced in May 2017 and was completed this month, Wings said.

The expansion project was brought on in part by the planned Thatcher Meadows subdivision development, which could bring District 36’s enrollment from 392 to 1,600, Wings said.

Thatcher Meadows site developer NRB Land Development once planned to build a 3,700-home subdivision east of Wonder Lake near the district. The project stalled in 2008, but activity has resumed, Wings said.

“It’s resuscitated and coming back to life, but there are things they have to do first,” Wings said.

NRB Land paid for 67 percent of the District 36 project and has agreed to construct a new school when enrollment increases to 700, which is about as much as the building can accommodate. The current school would become the middle school, and the new school would serve the district’s elementary and preschool students, Wings said.

The district paid for its
$2.5 million portion of the renovation project from the school’s reserve funds.

“We have been very cognizant of property taxes and don’t want to raise them,” Wings said. “We are trying to do as much as we can with what we have.”

District 19 considers
extensive work

Alden-Hebron School District 19 has more students than District 36, with total preschool through high school enrollment at 423 in 2017. The district is in the process of determining whether it will move forward with its own potential plans to build a new school or renovate its existing middle school and high school.

Earlier this year, District 19 formed a facilities committee to consider the matter. The district likely would put the ultimate decision in the hands of the voters with a referendum question on the April 2019 ballot, according to district documents.

But nothing is set in stone yet, Superintendent Debbie Ehlenburg said.

“The board of education has been gathering information regarding their facilities. They have reviewed the needs of the current MS/HS building, explored consolidation, and have researched the possibility and cost of building a new MS/HS,” Ehlenburg said.

The committee has reviewed the district’s 10-year life and safety assessments, reviewed costs, talked about the consolidation process and reviewed neighboring district tax rates, but a recommendation has yet to come forward, she said.

“We are in the early stages of looking at our options,” she said. “Nothing is set at this time.”

The building has two “necessary” renovation needs: $40,000 in improvements to become compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and $85,000 to replace a fire escape with a permanent stairway on the south side of the band room, according to a 2015 facilities study the district has used for reference for the project.

The report lists recommended improvements totaling millions of dollars. Some recommendations are a $3.7 million gym that would add a second full-size basketball court; expansion or improvement of the learning center, which would range from $900,000 to $1.9 million; and replacement or relocation of the outdoor athletic field and track, which could total more than $1.1 million, according to the report.

Required life and safety projects include things such as door replacements and the addition of a smoke detector and railings to different areas in the building.

Estimated cost for the repairs and renovations to the building is about $14 million, and students would be displaced for about a year to accommodate the project, according to district documents.

District 19 will host community engagement forums ahead of the referendum to answer questions about the potential project. If a referendum were to move forward for the April ballot, the board would need to make a decision by the winter.

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