Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Reek hopes $2.8 million is the magic number

by Steve Targo

May 17, 2012

LINN — The way Reek Administrator Joe Zirngibl put it during a May 9 telephone interview, his school board "decided to pretty much pick a number."

That number's $2.8 million, and it's the cost of the latest repair/renovation project the board will ask Reek School District voters to approve in the November general election.

The board made this decision May 3.

"We're running slow to make sure we get everything right," Zirngibl said about shooting for a Nov. 6 election. "I think we're headed in the right direction."

So far, all that's set is the date and the price tag. There's no referendum question yet. The board and architectural firm McCormick and Etten, Lake Geneva, were expected to meet Tuesday after press deadline to further discuss the scope of the project.

Zirngibl said the board decided the brick and windows on the 1993 addition to the school and its roof will be some of the top priorities of this next referendum. What remains is going through the list of other priorities to see what can be done for less than $2.8 million.

This will be the board's third attempt to gain voter approval for a project to address structural and other concerns with the school building. The first two occurred in 2011. Those referendums concerned the same repair/renovation project, which would have cost about $3.9 million if approved. Both referendums failed — by 20 votes last April and by four in October.

Zirngibl said there are four categories on the current list of possible improvements — the building envelope; creation of a secure school entrance; site work, including drainage and traffic flow improvements; and electrical and Internet upgrades.

In response to why the board landed on $2.8 million for this next referendum, Zirngibl said it seemed to be a compromise compared to the amount of the last project versus the idea of a $2 million "bare bones" project which was an option on a survey sent to district voters earlier this year.

"The majority of the survey results came back supporting the $3.9 million or the (proposed) $2 million referendum (projects)," he said. "The board decided if they went in between these figures, we'd have a better chance of getting this referendum passed."

Last year, Zirngibl said part of the reason both referendums for the $3.9 million project failed was because people were not unified.

Some may have supported the $3.9 million project, but others liked the idea of consolidating the Reek district with other nearby school districts, namely Traver or Fontana. Others also supported the idea of building a new school, and among that group, there was a split between those who wanted a dome-styled building and those who wanted something more conventional.

According to Zirngibl, some people came to the May 3 board meeting in favor of the dome school idea. This idea received the least amount of support in the survey. As such, building a new school — dome or conventional — was removed from the table in February.

On May 9, Zirngibl said Reek officials told these people they didn't have enough hard facts to seriously consider a dome school project. He said prior to the October 2011 referendum, dome school proponents claimed the entire school could be constructed for $3.9 million. Since then, local architect Tom Kincaid worked with Reek School Board member Ryan Southwick on a dome school cost estimate for the survey.

"Around mid-January, it was $5,660,000," Zirngibl said. "Then, about three weeks later, (Kincaid) was saying it could cost $4.2 million."

He said on May 3, the board voted 5-0 in favor of going to a Nov. 6 referendum for a $2.8 million repair/renovation project.

Election talk

Aside from having the luxury of moving slow, Zirngibl said there is time for other factors to be decided before Reek voters weigh in on this next project.

"With a November election, they will have the voter ID situation resolved and hopefully decide whether it will be required or not," he said.

The controversial state law requiring voters to present ID won't apply to the upcoming recall election against Gov. Scott Walker. However, Zirngibl said if the courts uphold the law, it may work to their advantage.

He said it could help poll workers determine whether voters are primary residents within Reek School District, which spans the towns of Linn and Walworth and the village of Fontana. Three people who voted in the October referendum election were not primary Reek residents, Zirngibl said.

"The Voter ID law probably would have caught that," he said.

Zirngibl said he expects more people will participate in the Nov. 6 election. For one thing, that's the next presidential election.

"Statistically speaking, the best date for a referendum is the November election," he said. "But with the presidential election, I expect it would be a good turnout. We'll have a better chance of all our resident families to go and vote."

Zirngibl predicted the referendum question would be finalized by July. Meanwhile, officials also are working on new ways to present this new project.

"One of the things we're looking at is a graphic design of what the outside of the school will look like, rather than having just a floor plan to show," he said.

As Zirngibl embarks upon his third referendum attempt since he became administrator last July, when asked how he feels about it, he said it's his job.

"I don't have a problem with it because we're here for the kids," he said. "We want to provide the best facilities here in order to help them learn. Whatever it takes I just do because it's the right thing to do."