by LAURA HAYES
Washington-Kosciusko may still be saved. The school was originally one of three elementary schools slated to be closed as part of Winona Area Public Schools’ (WAPS) estimated $90 million facility plan that will come before voters in the fall that proposes expanding and remodeling Jefferson and Goodview and closing Madison, Rollingstone, and W-K. Although no official vote was taken, during Monday’s meeting, several School Board members were interested in a new two-school facility plan — W-K and Goodview.
The conversation arose after city and district leaders met recently to weigh whether there was any available land within city limits that is large enough for a new school or if the streets surrounding W-K could be closed to make room for an expansion. Over the past year, some School Board members have repeatedly questioned whether W-K could be the site for a new elementary school. Prior to the Jefferson/Goodview plan that was approved in February, the School Board passed a facility plan with a 5-2 vote that would keep Goodview and Rollingstone open and building a new East End school. At the time, board member Jeanne Nelson and Board Chair Ben Baratto wondered if W-K could be the site of a new school and either to expand the school by a city block or build within the courtyard.
“The point here, is that we want to serve the different portions of the community. Jefferson is so close to Goodview that I think it’s defeating the purpose,” Nelson said.
Several School Board members were interested in having a school on the east and west side of the district, particularly W-K on the east and Goodview on the west. Baratto stated that W-K was a viable site. Wold Architects and Engineers, which the district hired to aid in the facility planning process, created a mock design of expanding W-K to house 575 students estimated to cost approximately $22 million, although Wold partner Paul Aplikowski cautioned that the costs weren’t final. The plan included adding a new two-story addition to the back of the building. Wold staff suggested that the new addition could contain offices, a kitchen, a new entrance, and a gymnasium. If the district acquired the Seventh Street block next to the school, the space could be used for parking and some play space.
District staff drafted a letter that will go to landowners surrounding W-K, asking if they would be interested in selling their property to the school district. “We won’t know until we ask,” Nelson said.
“Politically, if we don’t have a school in the Fourth Ward, we’re going to spend $10,000 to $20,000 on a referendum that’s going to fail,” Baratto said on Monday.
Board member Steve Schild said that community members have often said in the past that the referendum wouldn’t pass if it didn’t include a certain site. “Nobody has a crystal ball,” he responded. Schild said that while W-K wouldn’t be his first pick in a two-school facility plan, he would be willing to compromise.
Why Goodview instead of Jefferson? some School Board members asked. “Jefferson is a big site,” School Board member Jay Kohner said. “We’re giving up 10 acres if we sell that site.”
School Board member Allison Quam argued that if the plan was Goodview and W-K then there would only be one school within the city of Winona. Some board members argued that Goodview had more land — 12.5 acres versus Jefferson’s 10 — and an open-concept floor plan. “Another thought is to tear [Jefferson] down,” Nelson said. She said that the land was valuable and pointed out that there wasn’t a lot of parking.
With Paul Giel field located near Jefferson, Aplikowski asked if there were other district services that could be housed in Jefferson, such as early childhood programs.
Keep Rollingstone open?
What to do with Rollingstone has come up several times during board discussions. School Board member Tina Lehnertz, who represents the Rollingstone community, pointed out that the district is often willing to bus kids from Rollingstone to other schools but not the other way around. She suggested making it a charter school.
Aplikowski proposed a facility plan that would also keep Rollingstone open. In addition to having two schools to house 1,200 students, he suggested “letting Rollingstone stand, as-is.” He cautioned against making long-term promises — either the district would have to come up with a plan to fill it or have someone buy the building. “It just buys you time with that building so that you can put that off. You can garner their support for this referendum and you’ve saved that battle for another day,” Aplikowski said.
Baratto and Nelson voiced their support for his proposal. “I do not,” Quam said. “I think if you’re going to save Rollingstone, then you have to save Madison. I think that’s going to be just as hard of a pill to swallow.”
“The problem that I have with that suggestion is that it seems a little disingenuous to keep them on board until we pass the referendum and then we’re back to looking at it [closing],” School Board member Jay Kohner said.
The School Board expressed interest in some other pieces of property, and administrators reached out to landowners to inquire if they would be interested in selling. Halvorsen said that they contacted city leaders about the Port Authority’s piece of property across from Winona Middle School (WMS) at J.T. Schain Industrial Park, who said that they didn’t know if an elementary school would fit in the mission that the Port Authority had for the industrial land.
When the district reached out to Minnesota State College — Southeast Technical (MSC-Southeast) to see if they would be interested in selling 21 acres currently used for its truck driving program, President Dorothy Duran responded that the college intended to build on that space and that it wasn’t interested in selling the property.
The School Board had mixed reactions to building a new school next to WMS. Baratto believed that if the district was looking for land for a new elementary school, the parcel next to WMS may be a good fit because the two schools could share facilities. Schild said that he didn’t think the land was “viable” for a new school, and School Board members Karen Coleman and Quam said that they would not support a new school outside of the city. Coleman said that the middle school is isolated from the rest of the city, adding that biking or walking to the school is challenging.
Baratto said that he didn’t think the School Board was seriously considering building a new school after hearing that it may take several months to determine whether the property was available. “I think we would lose momentum, and I fear if we stall on this thing and don’t move forward, I don’t think this board will be very well looked upon in the community from what I’m hearing. They want us to make a decision,” Baratto said.