Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Reek officials prepare for another referendum
This time, voters decide fate of $2.8 million project

by Steve Targo

November 01, 2012

LINN — “I guess everyone’s just hoping for the best,” said Joe Zirngibl, Reek School administrator, in his office Thursday, Oct. 25.

They’ve been hoping for that quite some time now.

In late 2010, the school board decided to ask district voters to approve a $3.9 million renovation project. That’s the same project voters narrowly defeated in an April 2011 referendum election — and the same project which lost by four votes in an October 2011 referendum election.

But on Nov. 6, the Reek School Board will try again, asking for support of a scaled-back, $2.8 million project. Voters will either approve or deny this referendum at the same time they will decide who will be the president.

Zirngibl didn’t seem eager to guess at what the outcome will be at the polls Nov. 6. In fact, one of the first things he said Oct. 25 was that he’s prepared to accept the results, whatever they may be.

“All the previous (referendum) elections have been so close, literally, that you really can’t predict what’s going to happen,” he said. “I can’t allow myself to get emotionally involved in it because, if it wins or loses, I still have a school district to help run.”

The project

The $2.8 million referendum project calls for repairing and enhancing certain aspects of the current Reek School building at the corner of South Lake Shore Drive and Maple Ridge Road.

In an email Monday, Ryan Southwick — Reek School Board member and head of the school’s citizen committee to support the $2.8 million referendum — discussed the focus of the project.

According to Southwick, the focus was on three areas — make necessary repairs to prevent additional damage to the school, improve security and increase the technological capabilities of the school.

“One of the focal points for education growth of the school is to improve technology in the school and allow additional opportunities for our staff to implement technology into the school system,” Southwick said. “The board understands (that) continuing to improve and adding technology will continue to give our students the capability and creative ability for the future.”

Part of the project also involves changing the main entrance of the school, to have all guests come through the office to sign in, as well as improve parking lot traffic flow and update the fire alarm system.

In addition, the project calls for fixing the deteriorating brick work, windows and roof structures.

Zirngibl discussed the advantages of repairing the current building. If approved, the project will ensure that the school “will be here at least the next 25 years,” he said.

“It’s the least expensive alternative when we’ve got a struggling economy,” Zirngibl said.

He added having a school closer to residential areas increases the value of those homes.

“If you have young families looking for housing, they’re going to look for a place near a school,” Zirngibl said. “This increases the demand on housing near schools.”

Why support it

He said most of the people were supportive of the $2.8 million project who attended the last informational meeting the school board held last week at the Linn Town Hall.

“I would guess most of the people that were there have either sent their children through Reek School, they’re connected with families who have children here or they had or currently have grandchildren here,” Zirngibl said.

However, he addressed some of the opposing views. He said some people support dissolving the Reek School District.

Zirngibl said in some small towns that were built around schools, areas such as the Reek district, he has seen when the school disappears so does that community. Such was the case of Weyerhaeuser, which merged with the Chetek School District during the 2010-11 school year.

“That school (Weyerhaeuser), two years ago, shut down and all the students were placed in the Chetek district,” Zirngibl said. “But the population had gone from like 325 to like maybe 90.”

Still, if Reek’s $2.8 million referendum fails, what will they do? Alex Palmer, the other Reek School Board member heading the citizen’s committee, said it would be a “heartbreak.”

Zirngibl said they would have to look at alternative forms of funding and what the state would allow.

He said about a month ago, a man from a financial firm in Minneapolis contacted him with an alternative. However, Zirngibl said he was reluctant to discuss it “because the board doesn’t even want to consider doing it until we find out if the referendum passes or not.”

“We want the community’s approval. … We want the school to look nice so that it draws people to it, to have it be a focus of pride for the community,” Zirngibl said.