The Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) Board voted earlier this month to spend about $25.8 million on geothermal HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems at two elementary schools. The district last year issued about $16 million in bonds, or debts, for the projects, but has not secured a funding source for the other $9.8 million. Now, it is considering local bonding or federal funding to cover the remaining costs, though it is not clear what amount of federal funding the district could receive. 

Last fall, the district rejected bids that were over the $16 million budget, which consultants said was influenced by inflation. The board decided to receive another set of bids for the projects and work with a construction management firm to try to reduce costs. The board also voted to move forward with issuing more bonds and / or pursuing other funding, such as federal tax credits. The district then sent an initial document to the government about the projects. Earlier this month, the School Board accepted a new set of bids totallying $25.8 million.

“I’m supportive of the project moving forward,” School Board Chair Nancy Denzer said. 

“I think it’s great news that we’re moving forward with those projects … “ Superintendent Annette Freiheit said. 

Issuing more bonds, that would be paid off with increased property taxes, is one option for the district to finance the remaining $9.8 million. The district is also considering possible federal tax credits. “And we’re right now waiting on a report back from the federal government that would allow us to continue with the application,” Denzer said. 

Denzer said the current funding the district has for the HVAC projects is believed by the consultants to be enough until January 2024. Freiheit said she believed the School Board aimed to decide when to fund the HVAC projects in January 2024. 

In the meantime, the district is holding a facilities referendum this April. Asked about the combined tax impact of the HVAC projects and the referendum, Freiheit said she could not answer at this time answer, and she believed the board would discuss it in January 2024. Denzer added of the HVAC projects and the referendum, “We are keeping them separate.” She said that the board has not yet reached the point of considering the combined tax impact, as it is considering the HVAC projects and referendum separately. 

When asked whether the board’s decision about funding the HVAC projects would come before or after the referendum, Denzer said, “We haven’t decided that yet, so we will be talking about it, and we’ll make a decision with the full board.” 

There is not yet a sense of the amount of funding the district could receive from the federal government or the timeline in which WAPS would receive that funding, Denzer said, adding that the government is in the process of making some of those decisions. 

When asked how realistic the potential federal funding is, Denzer said she believes the HVAC projects fit some of the traits the government is looking for with energy efficient, environmentally friendly projects. “So we believe we have a project that is really worth the time that it will take to submit the application,” she said. 

Freiheit said she was not sure how realistic the federal funding is. 

Freiheit said she did not know at this time of any other possible funding streams besides the federal funding. Denzer said the district has not discussed other funding sources at this point, adding, “Not that we wouldn’t if there were some available.”