Clinton School District facilities study could lead to a referendum

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Hillary Gavan/Beloit Daily News Clinton Elementary School Principal Ben Simmons checks out an aging boiler at the school. The school district is undergoing a campus-wide facilities study to see if modernizations need to be made at the schools.

CLINTON - When Clinton residents visit their old schools they often say they haven't changed much.

Although they have fond memories of the schools, the facilities might be in need of some updates. It's part of the reason the Clinton School District is undergoing a campus-wide facility study to determine if modernization would benefit the district.

"We need to have an accurate picture of the areas in need of improvement due to aging infrastructure. With the study, the district can make a wise financial decision that will benefit students, staff and the community," Superintendent Jim Brewer said.

From an aging boiler to old-fashioned chalkboards under SmartBoards and inefficient space, the schools have a variety of nods to the past.

On a tour Thursday, Brewer pointed out some concerns at Clinton Elementary School: a multipurpose room too big for a classroom, but too small for a gym; the aging boiler; a too-small library; and aging flooring.

"Last year I had to shut an elementary school down twice to due a water main break. We can't continue to shut down school in the winter because of infrastructure problems," Brewer said. "We need to know what other infrastructure needs could impact education."

It also has been difficult to schedule lunchtimes and physical education classes because of insufficient space in the cafeteria and gym. The school also lacks the appropriate space/configuration and storage options necessary for music and art rooms and lacks modern security features.

Clinton's elementary and middle school were each built in the 1950s, while the high school opened 2001.

Brewer invites community members to take part in upcoming tours to see the schools' many needs for themselves. Tours will be hosted at the following times: 1 p.m. on Sept. 20 at the high school; 9 a.m. at the elementary school and 10:15 a.m. at the middle school on Sept. 25.

Brewer said the Board of Education voted to move forward with a campus-wide facility study last spring. An architect was hired, and JP Cullen was brought on board to provide costing estimates.

Currently, the district is in the study phase. The architects have gone around all the buildings this summer, and will be touring facilities next week as students are back in school.

Brewer said the district held a staff workshop in May to start gathering staff input and discuss how education is changing. In July, more than 20 staff members and community members toured Waunakee Intermediate School and Lake Mills Elementary School to see modern learning spaces. In August, staff toured Elkhorn High School, with a primary focus on its career and technical education space and equipment.

Brewer said some schools are implementing pod setups where similar grades are grouped around a shared center area. The setup is conducive to collaboration as well as better for security. It's one of many options the architects will be considering.

Once the study is complete, the architects will give a formal presentation to the board in December. The board will then start to develop some preliminary options, cost and tax impacts. With the Community Finance Action Committee, the district will start community workshops in spring of 2018.

The plan could potentially lead to a tax referendum.

No matter what the study finds, Brewer said Clinton will continue to provide an excellent education for students. "We graduated 94 future leaders this spring because we have phenomenal teachers. We will continue to provide education in this space or a more modern space," he said.

Brewer said Clinton continues to make improvements in all areas of the district this year. Students in second through twelfth grades have Chromebooks to use, and the Clinton Connects program offers options for online classes. The district has also adopted a new grading system with more feedback.

There is a modified start time for staff and students, an enhanced school to work program, a new breakfast program for students and online registration. One administrative position was eliminated through attrition to be more fiscally responsible, Brewer said.

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