Winona task force looks at option to close 3 elementary schools
WINONA — The Winona Area Public Schools Facility Task Force held its third meeting Tuesday night at Winona High School, considering options for closing schools and saving money throughout the district because of dwindling enrollment and rising costs per student.
With five meetings left, Paul Aplikowski, of Wold Architects, the group hired to guide the district through this decision-making process, said he hoped to help the group of 30 task force members come to a consensus on what to recommend to the WAPS School Board as a future for facilities in the district.
"It may not be very visible, but I think we've made a lot of progress," Aplikowski said. Most of that progress has been in building the informational foundation of the task force members so they can start coming together on solutions soon. "Maybe next time we'll come back with an option to talk about; maybe we'll eliminate some options."
The option the group took home Tuesday night to consider was Option C, one of 13 options put forth to the school board before the task force was formed. Option C was seen by the board — and by Aplikowski — as a starting point for discussions.
Sal Bagley, another member of the Wold team, outlined the specifics of Option C for the group:
* It would close three current schools: Madison, Jefferson and Washington-Kosciusko elementary schools.
* Those closings would save the district $31 million in deferred maintenance needed at those buildings.
* Other savings would include $669,000 in staffing and $217,000 in utilities.
* Added costs by closing those buildings would include $207,000 in busing annually.
* The closings would reduce the district's footprint by 82,000 square feet.
Option C also would require building a new elementary school on Winona's east side while keeping open Rollingstone Elementary as it is and remodeling Goodview Elementary. The new building and the remodeled Goodview Elementary would be able to handle 1,200 students combined, and Rollingstone would have an additional capacity of 117 students, Bagley said.
During the meeting, a discussion broke out on the value of keeping Rollingstone Elementary open.
WAPS Superintendent Stephen West said closing all the current schools and building just one large elementary seemed to be a nonstarter with the community right off the bat. The idea, then, was to look at multi-school options that still would represent savings for the district.
"We looked at one school on the east side of town and one on the west," West said.
However, Rollingstone Elementary was seen as something a little bit different.
"We've had community schools all the way up from Dakota to Stockton," West said, looking at the history of the district. "Rollingstone is the last of the community schools. You can talk about doing away with it, but you have to have a real conversation about it."
Aplikowski said that school, the geographic outlier in the district, comes with some political baggage.
"There is some inertia behind that option (Rollingstone)," he said. "This group can decide to argue for or against it."
Task force member Kendall Larson, a district parent and a community member, said the discussion on Rollingstone is one the task force will have to make.
"Every school in its own way has justification for existing," she said. The task force should make a list of needs in the district. When it comes to needs, "if that's a really small school out in Rollingstone, and if there are reasons for that, that can be justified."
With the group considering all the pieces of Option C, Aplikowski said he hopes the task force looks at the options then comes up with viable variations of it to discuss.
"We're starting with the concept of C, but we will do any option that the group wants to look at," he said.
"You do have these really solid buildings, and I think this group and the school board should look at what are the options to renovate them," Larson said. "We should see what potentially any of those options are and what they would cost."