Thursday, April 22, 2021
Tim Ruppert of HSR Associates outlines some factual details about TMS and THS. Herald photos Bob KliebensteinThe facility study focus group broke into smaller discussion pods to share ideas. This group consisted of Paul Potter, Mike Gnewikow, Spencer Stephens, JoLynn Schmidt and Duane Chapman, partially hidden.

New school building enters focus group dialogue

What should come as little surprise was sentiment that electors in the Tomah School District will likely face a new building referendum as a recommendation from a building facilities focus group.

The group met for its second meeting Tuesday night at Tomah High School. Like its first meeting in March at Tomah Middle School, some members toured THS for an up close look at challenges facing future education needs at that building.

At present, enrollment at THS is 890 students in a building with original construction in 1964 and additions in 1973, 1978, 1996 and 2007. The full THS complex, including outside green space, sits on 26 acres.

Some deficiencies noted by Tim Ruppert of HSR Associates, the firm working with the district on the facility study, inadequate special education spaces, outdated technology spaces and lack of flexible education space for 21st century learning. The list was longer, but the latter is something that needs to be addressed, said Tomah district superintendent Dr. Mike Hanson.

"A modern education system, what does it look like," Hanson said. "Flexible is the key. Open, airy spaces."

Hanson said district personnel toured new building construction at Western Technical College in La Crosse for a visual example. Hanson envisions that type of atmosphere at Tomah to "build college and career readiness" for future graduates.

Following some comments from Hanson, Ruppert asked the group to break into smaller groups for an exercise to identify how to achieve that goal.

A couple of comments included:

"The middle school cannot be fixed."

"We don't want to piecemeal something together."

This solution was hinted slightly at the TMS in March, not the case Tuesday night. New construction in some form is needed.

New high school? New middle school? New elementary school? All were mentioned; nothing gained favor over the other, at this stage.

One comment, if budget constrictions were not an issue, what could be done? Budget constrictions go hand in hand with new construction.

"At some point it has to be about the pocket book," said district business manager Greg Gaarder.

The focus group will play a key role in building support for that investment.

"This group will have to validate that," Gaarder said.

Focus group member Greg Zingler added design and building does not pose the biggest hurdle.

"The hardest part is going to be selling this," Zingler added.

It will be a process taken in steps. Gaarder noted there will be discussion about what is the best direction for the THS and TMS buildings.

"That will provide some direction for what we do with the elementary schools and TAMS (Tomah Area Montessori School)," Gaarder said.

Very preliminary discussion Tuesday night, Gaarder said there are 27 acres available on the Steinhoff Fields property on western edge of Tomah. But if new construction is targeted for that land the district would have to replace acreage now used for Tomah soccer. And while 27 acres provides a large area, Ruppert recommended during his presentation 35 to 45 acres for a new high school campus.

The next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, April 13 at Miller Elementary School with a tour at the start. Discussion will also include school finance; develop master plan concepts and discussion on Tomah's elementary schools.

A meeting scheduled for Tuesday, May 11 will focus on refining master plan concepts. Site to be determined.

A fifth meeting, date and sight to be determined is also planned to continue discussion on development options.

The end goal is a focus group presentation to the Tomah School Board at its June meeting, a board that will feature some new faces after the April 6 election.

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