An exciting vision for high school

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Solid opportunity for Beloit to dream big and continue improvements.

TO SAY THE BELOIT 2020 group has an enviable and trustworthy track record is to state the obvious. Over about a quarter century the group has transformed the City Center and Rock River corridor. Projects continue, such as the Nature at the Confluence site in South Beloit, which will open to the public in a few weeks.

There's more in the works, too, and the group previously has outlined its interest in improving the Fourth Street corridor on the west side of the river.

Now, in partnership with the School District of Beloit and the City of Beloit, 2020 has revealed concept plans for reimagining the Beloit Memorial High School campus area between Maple and Liberty avenues. The partners believe the sweeping plan not only would improve the appearance and first impression of the campus, but also would help "sell" the district and community to students, families, staff and visitors.

THIS IS AN AMBITIOUS PLAN and is still in the early stages. It would be done in phases, with completion unlikely before 2030 or so.

In other words, get over the sticker shock of an estimated cost in the $23 million range. No one is talking about placing some big tax increase referendum on the next ballot.

In fact, the early argument being made is that by tackling the project one step at a time the work may be accomplished within the regular budget cycles for the school district. Whether that can be done over time in a district that has experienced its share of fiscal challenges - and in a state where levels of public school aid have been uncertain - will be sorted out over time.

Bottom line: That's mostly an issue for another day. Right now, the community should focus on the overall concept and what might be accomplished by bringing the project to fruition.

HERE'S HOW WE SEE IT. Over the past few years it's been something of a roller-coaster ride in the School District of Beloit.

The community stepped up and approved a $70 million referendum to finance a long list of physical improvements to the district. That vote came in the midst of a serious economic downturn when there was plenty of reason for caution and discouragement. Yet Beloit citizens expressed confidence in the future by choosing to pay handsomely for exceptional facilities.

Meanwhile, the district has been plagued by a series of setbacks which largely can be laid on the doorstep of the school board and administration. Political infighting has damaged the district, culminating not long ago with a town hall gathering of hundreds of teachers and staff who gave board members a long laundry list of complaints. Such problems have contributed to high staff turnover and leakage of students through open enrollment options to other districts.

Not surprisingly, academic performance has taken a hit from such dysfunction. So improvement is not a luxury. It is crucial.

HERE'S THE GOOD NEWS. The tools are there to set things right. What's needed is a new beginning. Committed leadership. Support for teachers to teach, and students to learn. Optimizing the outstanding facilities bought by taxpayers. A board that works rather than fights.

Truth is, some of the more vexing issues provide the reasons and the fuel to imagine a new start, a new mindset and a plan to make it happen. Beloit's school district - where tomorrow's citizens are in training today - is the community's most important imvestment in the future. This plan is a look through the window at a better tomorrow.

Keep this in mind, as well. Public improvements on the east side of the river sparked major private investments by the business sector. There's no reason that can't be duplicated on the west side.

A plan is just a plan, and no doubt details are negotiable over time. But what has happened on the east side of the river extending downtown and, now, into South Beloit, can be mirrored on the west shore along Fourth Street and around the Beloit Memorial High School campus.

This is an invitation to think big.

The community should accept.

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