West De Pere School Dist. plans to add on to newest elementary school

TOWN OF LAWRENCE – The West De Pere School District says it’s moving forward with a plan to add on to one of its fastest growing elementary schools. And the school district says it already has the money to pay for the multi-million dollar project.

Hemlock Creek Elementary is over capacity.

“We have to get very creative with scheduling,” said the school’s principal, Kathy Held. “Three, 4 years ago, when we had to start using classrooms that were not designated to be classrooms, parents were asking, ‘Well, what are you going to do? What are you going to do?’”

According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, the school’s enrollment numbers have increased by more than 30 percent over the last seven years.

With a shrinking space to educate the roughly 750 students, plans are now in the works to add roughly $4 million worth of classrooms and fine arts space.

“We’re really positioned in a great place right now, and this addition, we anticipate not to be any kind of increase in taxes for our taxpayers at all,” said district superintendent John Zegers, who says bonds, tax levies or referendums aren’t on the table.

Instead the district plans to pay for the work in cold hard cash.

The school isn’t old, it opened in 2007. But what has put the district in this unique position is district officials say they have set aside extra taxpayer dollars and state aid, over the last 20 years, to be specifically used for construction projects.

“We have not had to short-term borrow; we’ve had the money. We’ve been able to not do that,” said Barb Van Deurzen, vice president of the district’s school board. “The board looked at (the money) and said we really need to build something.”

Van Deurzen says the district realized more savings by cutting costs, partially due to the controversial Act 10 legislation. District leaders say they have $4 million on hand.

“Isn’t the money saved and the projected student enrollment increases still taxpayer dollars?” questioned FOX 11’s Bill Miston, of Zegers.

“Well, sure,” he replied. “I think the matter of being able to spend the appropriate amount of money we receive from the taxpayer, I think it’s appropriate of how that gets spent.”

On a district Zegers says is projected to see enrollment increases of up to 100 students a year.

The school board must still approve the project and find an architect. The district hopes to break ground on the addition next spring.

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