Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Crucial moment nears for Reek School
Voters will decide fate of $3.9 million project in Oct. 18 referendum election

by Steve Targo

October 13, 2011

Zirngibl
LINN — Signs are up. Pamphlets are out there. People are going door-to-door.

It's all because of the Reek School Board's second attempt to implement a $3.9 million school repair and renovation project.

On Tuesday, Oct. 18, Reek School District residents will decide once again if the board can implement this project when they vote at the Linn Town Hall in Zenda.

This is the same project which failed in April by 24 votes. On the heels of that failure, the board decided to push the project without changes during a special referendum.

During an interview Wednesday, Oct. 5, Reek Administrator Joseph Zirngibl said since the April referendum, the board and a community group in favor of the project talked to district voters. He said the intention was to discover why the project failed the first time around.

"Quite a few responded with, 'I thought it was going to go through without any problems, so I didn't bother to vote,'" Zirngibl said.

That's why the board decided not to change the proposed project, which calls for several improvements. Chief among them is to fix the brick work on the exterior of the 1993 addition as well as the roof and windows.

Other aspects of the project include making energy-efficient improvements, a more secure main entrance, technology upgrades, remodeling the cafeteria and music area and site improvements to facilitate easier, safer traffic flow for picking up and dropping off students.

"The reason the referendum wasn't scaled back is these are important things to take care of," Zirngibl said. "There wasn't anything in the referendum project we felt was unnecessary."

Not everyone sees it that way. In fact, since the April referendum failure, there has been a push toward building a new school.

But not just any school. District resident Bill Grunow submitted a dome school proposal along with the claim that it can be built for the same price tag as this repair and renovation project.

Zirngibl said there are a few problems with Grunow's proposal.

A big one was the lack of a readily available site. Although the idea was kicked around that the school could be built on the Linn Town Nature Park, it appears an agreement with the town of Linn and the Geneva Lake Conservancy will prohibit that.

There is a handout being distributed this week by the Reek Citizens Committee. One part titled "Q&A: Facts on Building a New School" was written by Reek School Board member Alex Palmer, who stated the board researched building a dome school "and found that the dome schools cost $125/square foot."

According to the document, Grunow's proposal called for a 22,000-square-foot dome school. The current Reek School is more than twice that size. To build a dome school at the current size of Reek, which is more than 47,000 square feet, the cost would be an estimated $5.87 million.

Zirngibl said whether it's $5.87 million or $3.9 million, as Grunow stated in his proposal, that's just the cost of the "shell" of the building. There are numerous aspects not included in Grunow's cost estimate, he said. The estimate obtained by the board for a new school rests between $7 and $9 million

But overall, Zirngibl said board members didn't believe it was the best use of community resources to build a new school in today's economy, in which unemployment is rising and people are "struggling enough already."

"If we can provide a safe building for the next 35 to 40 years for $3.9 million, why spend another $3.9 million just to get to the same point?" Zirngibl asked.

He said the skeletal structure of Reek School, even its oldest portions, are in "excellent shape" and questioned the need for a new school building.

"I would compare this situation to having a dent in your car," Zirngibl said. "It doesn't make the car unusable. You just have to fix it."

Essentially, that's what he and other Reek School Board members hope the majority of Reek voters will allow them to do Oct. 18.

Yes or no

Zirngibl said if the referendum fails, he suspects the board will "go back to the drawing board" to find a new solution. Although opposition has made it difficult, he said he believes "we have a good shot" at success in the upcoming election.

"The hardest part is to get everyone educated as to what the (project) is," Zirngibl said.

But the referendum is asking for the most the project would cost. In other words, if all goes well, the tax impact may be less than predicted.

"If everything goes well, we won't use $3.9 million. We'll use less and only borrow what we need."

He said in a typical remodeling project, you would "build in" all possible costs so you're not short on money, to accommodate for as many potential problems as possible. But if all goes well, the project cost estimate may come in under budget.

"If we can come in at $3.2 million, rather than $3.9, we'll only borrow $3.2," Zirngibl said.