Oconto Falls middle school options explored

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District aware of two possible sites if it decides to build someday
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The Oconto Falls School Board is looking five years down the road to a time when decisions may need to be made about the aging Washington Middle School complex.

The board has fielded overtures for two locations to replace the building at 102 S. Washington St. while emphasizing that any decisions about replacing or restoring the structure are years away.

Superintendent Dean Hess told the board at its Nov. 13 meeting that he recently was contacted in regard to a property across County Road I from the school district campus, approximately 110 acres, that is expected to be up for bid “sometime in the future.”

An attorney for the property owner is currently gathering appraisal information, Hess said.

“When I know more about that, I will get back to the board,” he said.

The land’s proximity to the existing Oconto Falls High School, Oconto Falls Elementary School and district offices make it a possibility to consider if the board ever decides to build a new middle school, he said.

Oconto Electric Cooperative approached the district early this year to open the possibility of using a 30-acre parcel near the Oconto Falls Industrial Park as a school location. The OEC said the district could have the property for $75,000.

Hess said after hearing about the 110-acre parcel, he circled back to OEC for an update about the earlier discussions.

CEO Byron Nolde “had a conversation with their board, and that piece of property that we had a conversation about in the past is still a possibility for our school district,” Hess said.

Although the property across the road could be seen as “more geographically beneficial, being right next door to our current campus,” Hess said the OEC land is also a viable option.

He emphasized that all conversations to date have been unofficial and extremely preliminary.

“I think it’s important that I bring all that information to you so that, if something were to come available here in the future, you have the ability to kind of know the who-what-when-where-how or different options,” Hess said.

If the board chose to pursue either option, administrators would need to have more formal discussions with the state Department of Natural Resources and city of Oconto Falls about such logistics as utilities and limits on where structures could be built.

The larger parcels of property would allow greater flexibility in laying out parking lots, playgrounds and athletic fields, board members noted.

“Obviously, Washington Middle School is not on 30 acres,” board member Clint Gardebrecht said.

Board member Tracey Krumrei said the board should keep all options on the table, including the possibility that taxpayers would rather stay with Washington Middle School.

Hess agreed and said the informal discussions about available land are about having alternatives.

“If we get four to five years down the road and the community would say, ‘We’d like a middle school,’ and you don’t have a place to put it, then you’re limited in your options,” he said. “But like you stated, the community could say, ‘We want instead to make renovations to what you have.’”

In response to a question from board member Ken Harter about whether the old middle school building could be sold and re-purposed, with the funds applied toward the new construction, Hess said other districts have had mixed success.

The former Wausau East High School has found new life as an apartment building, but other districts have gone years with empty old buildings that must be maintained or razed, Hess said.

“You can’t get too far down that road, because you don’t want the taxpayer to believe that you’re just automatically assuming that it’s going to be a certain direction,” he said.