Beloit Turner voters to consider $26.8M referendum on April ballot

Plans to build new elementary school, upgrade STEM
Beloit Turner voters to consider $26.8M referendum on April ballot

Voters in the School District of Beloit Turner will have to decide whether to say “yes” or “no” to a $26.8 million referendum to build a new elementary school and expand science, technology, engineering and math programs at the high school.

Superintendent Dennis McCarthy said Townview Elementary School is a 60-year-old building that has an outdated septic system, well system and no high-speed internet. He said there are also many shared spaces within the school, including the cafeteria and gymnasium.

“Overall, the building has just really lived its life,” he said. “There’s quite a bit that needs to be done out here.”

McCarthy said the elementary school is also on the edge of the district and 80 percent of students are bused to class.

“It also sits on a county highway, which is a pretty busy highway,” he said. “On that highway, it’s capped at a hill. It’s a pretty dangerous site for us.”

When people head to the polls April 3, voters in the Beloit Turner School District will decide on a $26.8M referendum to build a new elementary school & upgrade STEM programming at the high school #news3

— Jenna Middaugh (@JennaMiddaugh) March 22, 2018

The referendum would allow $24.2 million to build a new elementary school on land near the middle and high schools, which the district already owns.

“It would keep all three of our school sites basically within less than a mile of each other, which would reduce our busing concerns quite a bit,” McCarthy said.

With a new elementary school, the current grade levels would be reconfigured. Right now, Powers Elementary School houses pre-kindergarten through second grade, and Townview Elementary is for third- through fifth-graders. If the referendum passes, and a new school is built, Townview Elementary would become second- through fifth-grade.

“Powers is very similar to Townview, where it has a shared gymnasium/cafeteria and those issues, but by removing one grade level, or five classes, out of that, we reduce the amount of time needed in that gymnasium,” McCarthy said.

The school board has not decided what to do with the Townview Elementary building if the referendum were to pass.Beloit Turner voters to consider $26.8M referendum on April ballot

Also included in the $26.8 million referendum is $2.6 million for STEM upgrades at the middle and high school complex.

“We have a very outdated tech ed lab, but we have great opportunities with Blackhawk Technical College right up the road,” McCarthy said. “We can work with Blackhawk Tech to deliver college credit to our kids right at our facilities. We just need the facilities to be able to deliver, and when you’re looking at our facilities, they are outdated, but we have excellent instructors who can deliver, and if they have the right places to do it, I think that’s what’s going to happen for us.”

He said he wants graduates to leave the district with more than a diploma.

“We want to see kids that have a pathway,” McCarthy said. “It’s about knowing what their next step is, and they’ve already been exposed to that step while they’re in high school.”

This is the second referendum in recent years. In 2013, a $28 million referendum to build a new high school failed.

“We didn’t get the proper input at that time,” McCarthy said about the 2013 referendum. “This time, when you look at the input and how this process has worked, there has been opportunities for anybody to be a part of that process.”Beloit Turner voters to consider $26.8M referendum on April ballot

The referendum was proposed by a citizen’s facility study committee after the group spent more than a year looking into the schools’ maintenance and educational needs, according to McCarthy. There was also a community survey conducted in April 2017, which the citizens group used to shape the referendum.

“You could definitely see what looked like it would be supported and what wasn’t going to be supported,” McCarthy said. “Quite frankly, a new high school could have been an option, but it wouldn’t have been supported because it was much more costly to the community.”

There is some opposition to the referendum. School Board Vice President Kim Ward said she supports the STEM expansion but not the new elementary school.

“I think we would have been in a better position if it would have been split into two different questions,” she said. “The idea that we need to build a new elementary school in order to get that additional STEM funding seems grossly unfair.”

She agrees there are problems that need to be addressed at Townview Elementary but said the district could renovate instead of build a whole new school.

“That would be a lot less expensive than building a new elementary school,” Ward said. “I think, in this district especially, we see a lot of wants and needs. If we focus on the needs, then I think our kids will greatly benefit.”

Ward also said $26.8 million is a lot of money to ask the community to come up with.

“(This was) one of my concerns when this referendum came around the last time is this community is finally getting back up on its feet,” she said. “We’re seeing raising house prices and our unemployment numbers aren’t as bad as they were. They’ve improved a little bit, but we’re asking these people to come up with more money when they’re finally getting their feet under them again.”Beloit Turner voters to consider $26.8M referendum on April ballot

According to the district’s cost calculator, a $100,000 home would see taxes increase by $99 per year or $8.25 per month.

Ward said she’s concerned the new school will become outdated quickly. She said she would have liked to see a plan for a self-sustaining school that would be able to give back to the community.

“Schools that are built now will no doubt be obsolete in three to five years because of the increasing technology that’s being used. So we’re going to spend over $20 million to build a school that isn’t going to be tip-top and at the top of its game three to five years from now,” she said. “So maybe we should have taken some more time and really looked to build towards the future … maybe even look at doing a self-sustaining school where it had geothermal heat, where it had solar panels, so we’d actually save some money from the community on running our buildings and services.”

If the referendum passes, McCarthy said the upgraded STEM programming would be in place for the 2019-2020 school year and the new elementary school would open for the 2020-2021 school year.