7/14/2017 7:28:00 AM Next step for red brick schoolhouse in St. Germain Town board hears consultant's recommendation about what should be done
Brian Jopek/Lakeland Times
The red brick schoolhouse in St. Germain, pictured in December 2015. Under a recommendation made to the town board recently, the rear portion, left — added on in 1965 to the original 1941 school — would be removed.
The St. Germain Town Board now has a recommendation from a design professional for the town's 1941 red brick schoolhouse.
For years, no one in St. Germain seemed to want to do anything with it.
There have been, and are, people who know what they'd like to see done, whether it's tear the building down or preserve it.
But as far as officially doing anything with the building since it ceased being used by the town for anything besides some storage, nothing has been done.
In fact, several years ago, those on the "not wanting to do anything at all" side won in a referendum.
So, it's just been sitting ever since, although the current town board, spurred on by former town supervisor Marv Anderson, has taken steps to get a clearer picture of the structure's possible future.
Over the past year or so, going back to when Anderson was still on the town board before getting elected to the Vilas County Board, the town board has been taking steps to change that and be on the way to getting some definitive answers regarding a direction to go.
Monday, the town board heard another presentation from Melody Hamlin, a project manager with Funktion Design Studio, which focused on square footage uses for four options her firm has put together.
Hamlin's presentation, as it had at the June 10 town board meeting, centered around four options, the first involving the 1978 community center and the schoolhouse being remodeled while adding community program space.
The second option would have the schoolhouse demolished and add additions to the community building.
Option three, the option Hamlin ultimately said her firm is recommending to the town board, would see demolition of the 1965 portion of the schoolhouse with additions to the community center.
Under this option, the schoolhouse would house town offices, a history room and be accessible to handicapped people under provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The fourth and final option would result in an all new community center, standing where the current community center and schoolhouse once stood.
The cost estimate for the third option, the option Hamlin recommended, was between $3.8 million and $4.3 million, depending on square footage.
The most expensive option was the fourth option, at between $4.3 million and $4.9 million.
The least expensive estimate is option one at between $2.4 million and $2.9 million.
Option three could give the town the greatest amount of square footage at either 24,200 feet or 27,325 feet.
"It's a pretty sensitive project, as everybody knows," Hamlin said. "We tried to look at it very objectively and looked at the information we've received from emails and each one of the meetings ... we kind of went back and looked at our notes."
She said, basically, the recommendation was arrived at using input and information gathered over the course of meetings held in the past three months, where town residents and stakeholders of various community clubs and organizations had the opportunity to provide that.
When it's all said and done, should the town board decide to put something up for a vote, it'll be the electors who ultimately determine which direction to go. Town clerk Tom Martens asked Hamlin if she's ever been involved in a referendum that had four options for voters to choose from.
"We have not been involved in a referendum to that level," she said. "We've provided information for other projects to the board where they went ahead to referendum, but we haven't assisted with the actual referendum."
"We did have a referendum like that and the board determined the results were inconclusive," Martens said. "Because everybody got to vote on everything."
'We did look at longevity'
Asked by Martens if she would stay with the project should electors decide to move forward, Hamlin said the actual engineering and design of whatever was decided by voters would be another separate phase from what her firm has done to this point.
St. Germain resident Milt Klingsborn asked if Funktion Design would be issuing requests for proposals for the project.
"We would develop the bidding documents for the contractors," Hamlin said. "So, you can move forward with us at the next step in the actual design part of the building. You have an opportunity to open that up for RFP also. So, that's where you would work with other professionals."
Hamlin then tossed in a sort of hint to the town board.
"We would prefer to keep working with you," she said.
Hamlin suggested formation of a building committee to oversee the next phase, which, for whatever project the town board decided on, would be the actual design phase.
"That committee should be made up of individuals from your clubs, members from the community, of course, so that you can have a cohesive group to help in developing how the building's going to function and work together so everything is adjacent to each other and you can follow through with the correct plan as far as the size and the detailed square footage," Hamlin said.
She was asked about building longevity and said, essentially, with the materials used and the extent of the renovation and upgrading done to the schoolhouse and the community center, they'd last at least 50 years.
"There's certain materials - for instance, sealants last about 15 years," Hamlin said. "There are those minor things but we did look at longevity and put it at 50 years."
Hamlin said she would have her final report, a document summarizing the information gathered in the past four months, submitted to the town board later this month.
Following her presentation, recommendation and answering some questions, town board members took some time to discuss the matter.
Town board, audience reaction
"Anybody got any feelings off the tops of their heads?" town chairman Tom Christensen asked.
After some initial positive comments regarding the quality of Hamlin's presentation, St. Germain resident Bob Schell made the point option three might have everything people are looking for and asked why there should be a choice between it and option four, the most expensive option.
"What am I gonna end up with when they're all done?" he asked. "If I built them side by side, what am I gonna see different in the $4 million (building) versus the $2 million?"
"A brand new building," Christensen said.
Schell said option three would last 50 years, as a new building is expected to.
"I have a hard time stomaching that one," supervisor John Vojta said.
"This is probably an unfair question to ask but I'm gonna ask anyway," supervisor Ted Ritter said to Christensen. "Do you see in the steps ahead of us, do you see this board making - debating the options and making a recommendation to the electors? Or do we just take all the information and without the board taking a position one way or another, just turn it over to the electors?"
"I think you can do it either way," Christensen said in response.
Vojta said the problem is "at the end of the day, it goes to the electors."
"At the end of the day, it does," Ritter said. "But I would be concerned if we just offer options three and four, we may be missing some savings in a more economical option that we aren't offering. Just a thought."
Martens, historically a proponent of keeping the schoolhouse, said he felt option three offered "the best of both worlds."
"You're having the people who want the news building and having the people who want to save the red brick and you're having a building that's supposed to last 50 years like a new one would last anyway," he said. "To me, that's like I said, the best of both worlds."
"How did I know you'd say that?" Christensen asked Martens.
"Well, I don't like option two at all," Martens said. "But ... John doubts it'll last another 50 years. It would have a whole new plumbing system. A whole new electrical system. A whole new roof and it's still block. Why wouldn't it last another 50 years?"
Vojta said his comment was in reference to a refurbished building outlasting a new one.
"You've got 60 years of wear and tear," he said. "I mean, I could have gone more in-depth with her (Hamlin). Are they tearing out all the electrical wires in there?"
"That's what I understood," Christensen said.
"I mean, everything?" Vojta asked.
"That's what they said," Martens replied. "A new system."
Vojta said he was still skeptical about how the schoolhouse's foundation would be shored up.
"Therein lies the bad one," Christensen said. "They get in there and get it all dug up and they find out the foundation is really in sad shape, and now you're lifting the building to put a new foundation underneath. So, you just burned your contingency fund, probably."
Vojta said to answer Ritter's question, the reason the town board has taken the path it has is to narrow things down the way it has and used options three and four as examples.
"If the taxpayers, at the end of the day, come back and say, 'No, we're not going to spend that money,' then we still have options one and two to throw back on the table at that point," he said. "Then, we can ask them again. Otherwise, we're back to our stalemate of doing nothing like we've done."
Concept, square footage questions
Ritter said he agreed Funktion Design has done a good job and the process has been, to this point, "methodical."
"To me, though, I wish we had an actual floor plan for each of the options," he said.
Christensen at one time served on the Northland Pines School Board with Ritter's wife, Carolyn.
"That's just what your wife said about the high school," he said.
"Really?" Ritter asked.
"Exactly," Christensen said. "You're having problems with the conceptual idea."
"How did you respond to her?" Ritter asked.
"Well, she didn't get her way," Christensen said, which drew laughter from the audience.
"You're having problems with the conceptual picture," he said again. "And that's just the same thing that happened with the high school. You're saying you're gonna have this number of meeting rooms ... you're gonna have X amount of storage space and you have these different things. The building will eventually build on, if you did number three and you build on the new section, here's what's in the new section, here's what the old schoolhouse is gonna be, gonna be used for."
That, Christensen said, is what gets approved.
"Whether it's 23,000 square feet or 18,000 square feet, that will be the end result of the building," he said. "Inside of the building, it'll have all these things. And then, this is the cost. So, that's what you work on."
Ritter said he understood that but what he was uncomfortable with was everyone was certain 23,000 square feet was needed.
"It has been said many times here tonight and for the last ... how many years, we've been living with half of that," he said. "I don't think what we have now is enough, but I don't know we need to double what we have."
"And that discussion has to happen before ... we might have to have option three changed by then because here's where we're bringing down the square footage," Christensen said. "And the cost. Option four maybe has to have that happen to it, too, that we don't need 23,000 square feet."
The discussion went on several more minutes, Anderson the last to speak on the subject.
He said he felt the town board should present the electors with one proposal "and be able to substantiate why this is the best."
"I think if the board came with one recommendation that has a lot of credence, I think you'd have a much better result," Anderson said.
Brian Jopek may be reached via email at email@example.com.
Posted: Monday, July 17, 2017
Article comment by:
Bruce Van Hoozen
Just one correction to the story. Many different town boards have held nonbinding elections on what should be done with the RBSB. The people have always voted "No" whether it be to tear the building down or to repair it. However, when Peggy Nimz was the village president a non binding vote was taken at a special town meeting on my motion, that was seconded by the Lakeland Times own Buckshot Anderson. We asked that the town board pay up to $50,000 for a new roof on the 1965 part of the building, and let those who wanted to preserve the building do the fund raisers and get grant money to make the repairs and upgrades to the RBSB. The people voted "Yes" to our proposal. It marked the only time the people voted "Yes" to anything other than the suggestion to continue to do nothing. The town board took a binding vote on our motion and voted "No" because they would rather continue to do nothing. Now there is more talk about what to do with the RBSB, and their are 4 ideas to choose from. I can assure you the current town chairperson will be pushing for what's in his and his crony's best interest with no regard for what's best for the community. Maybe he should go back to doing nothing. That seems to be the only thing he can do right.