The St. Germain Town Board, meeting Wednesday in special session, moved the red brick schoolhouse/community center issue forward by deciding on a square footage amount.
Getting that determined and approved by the town board was something town chairman Tom Christensen wanted to see come out of that meeting.
The number to be given to Melody Hamlin at Funktion Design Studio is 18,675 square feet, to now put together actual plans using a combination of two options presented to the town board earlier this year.
'Where do we go next?'
For months now - actually more like a year and a half - the town board has been dealing with what to do with the community center and red brick schoolhouse.
What to do with the schoolhouse itself has been an issue for the past couple of decades, one faction in town wanting to save it while others have been in favor of doing away with it.
The matter was returned to a front burner toward the end of former town supervisor Marv Anderson's time on the town board, which ended in the spring of 2016 when he was elected to the Vilas County Board of Supervisors.
Over the course of the following months, the town board hired Funktion Design Studio of Wausau, which then, using information gathered from listening sessions as well as actual studies of the schoolhouse and the community center, put together four options for the town board to consider.
Those were presented to the town board in June of this year and the following month, Hamlin said her recommendation was option number three, which would see demolition of the 1965 portion of the schoolhouse and an all new community center that would be tied together with a sort of annex.
The fourth option was to demolish both the schoolhouse - built in 1941 - and the community center - built in 1978 - and build a new structure.
Using information gathered from Funktion, Christensen came up with the 18,675 square feet, which compared with square footage estimates from Funktion as high as 23,000 square feet.
He came up with an estimated cost for the project at $3 million to $3.5 million.
There was at least an hour of discussion and then supervisor Ted Ritter asked if the comfort level with the 18,675 feet was there, "where do we go next?"
Anderson, attending as a citizen of St. Germain, asked what was wrong with $3 million "for a completely new facility."
"That's a rhetorical question," he said. "But why is that not a good number, do you think? Or any of you from the board standpoint? That's why I ask."
The estimated property tax impact for the owner of a $200,000 home is $75 a year for 15 years.
"The number that's gonna have value to people or meaning to people is 'What's this going to cost me on my tax bill?'" supervisor Ted Ritter said.
"One of the reasons I ask ... is that I know a good part of the discussion a couple meetings ago that I was at was that, 'The building should last 30 or 40 years,'" Anderson said. "Like this one has, paid off in 15 (years). You'd have a paid off building for 15 years with no ... property tax for at least 15 or 20 years."
He said he wasn't trying to advocate.
"I'm just stating maybe a fact to say, 'Hey, paid off in 15 years at $75 a year?'" Anderson said. "On the average, probably? In today's value of a very nice looking, complete, coordinated new facility that accommodates virtually everyone that's going to use it for the forseeable future? Without saying, 'Geez, you know, we should keep some of this and remodel that.' The thing that always sticks with me is if you decide to go with a new facility at whatever cost versus a remodeled facility ... don't forget if you do a remodeled facility, you'll have a remodeled facility that may not have what you need 15 or 20 years from now, all things considered, whether it's mechanical or just use."
Anderson said he and his wife talked it over and came to a conclusion.
"A brand new facility at an acceptable cost, explained well to people so they understand what people have talked about here," he said. "You know, 'This is what it's going to cost approximately on your tax bill only for 15 years and you won't have to do a thing to it for 20 years or more. That might be part of an explanation methodology rather than to get into rehab, rehab, rehab or five different changes to a plan that these folks (Funktion Design) spent months and months to devise for you."
Not doing questionnaires
Ritter said at $3.5 million that would mean a larger building than the current community center.
He also wondered if that price tag included demolition and removal of the current community center as well as schoolhouse.
Christensen said it would.
Town treasurer Marion Janssen said she had an idea.
"We're brainstorming this thing," she said. "We have how many registered voters? Those are the ones that'll count as far as whether or not this referendum passes."
Town clerk Tom Martens said that number was approximately 1,600.
"So, if we have 1,600 registered voters and we do a questionnaire ..." she began.
"No, no, no," Christensen interrupted. "The board has already decided that we're gonna make a decision and in April we're taking a referendum to the people. One question, they're gonna make up their mind on that referendum. We're not doing questionnaires that lay out 15 different proposals or something. We're not doing that."
"But why not ..." she began.
Christensen stopped her again.
"We've already decided, Marion, that we're not going down that path," he said. "OK?"
"Thank you," St. Germain resident Roger Weber said.
"Thank you what?" Janssen asked him.
"The board makes the decision," Weber said.
"Well, I know that but the people make the decision," Janssen said. "They (the board) make the decision to present it to the people ..."
"What we put forward, the town can say, 'No,'" Christensen said.
"And then all this work is in vain?" Janssen asked.
"No, we go back to the drawing board," Christensen told her. "Come up with plan two."
"Alright, I was trying to see if you could get some input," Janssen said.
"Or, at the next election, three of us get un-elected and somebody has another idea," Christensen said. "That's the way the system works."
St. Germain resident Brian Cooper pointed out there were meetings of different groups who use the community center conducted during Funktion Design's information gathering process.
"People could come and throw their ideas out there," he said. "I mean, this was well publicized for a long time."
"Well, I know everyone is stumbling here," Janssen said.
"What we're stumbling on is the dollars," Christensen said. "It's very blatantly clear now, with what Marv said and what you've said, Ted, what we're stumbling over is $3 million the right number or $3.5 million the right number. I think that's where the stumbling block is now. We're coming to the reality this isn't a $2 million project."
Weber, a former member of the Northland Pines school board, said no one should feel badly about tearing down the community center.
"This building was built by the (Northland Pines) school district and given to the town," he said. "The town of St. Germain did not pay for this building being built."
"This building?" Ritter asked, referring to the community center.
"They built this building and it did not cost the town of St. Germain one dime," Weber said. "The whole building."
"I didn't know that," Christensen, also a Northland Pines school board member at one time, said.
"The school board sold you for one dollar the red brick schoolhouse and all its problems and gave you this," Weber said.
Christensen said that was done once construction of Northland Pines High School in Eagle River was completed.
"They did the same thing with Land O'Lakes and Conover, too," Weber.
In fact, the room the town board meets in on a regular basis is half-carpet, half-linoleum floor.
"So the kids would have a place to sit on the floor," St. Germain resident Milt Klingsborn said.
"This was a school," Weber said.
Town to decide
Ritter said considering what was available to the town in the way of square footage being used in the community center now and not being used in the schoolhouse, he thought the 18,675 square feet was a number was one "I think we can live with."
Supervisor Jim Swenson said it would "cover all our bases" and allow for possible future expansion of the building, if needed.
"It's not totally out there and within our means," he said.
Eventually, Christensen made a motion, seconded by Swenson, to send the square footage to Funktion Design and rework options three and four based on the 18,675.
The money to cover costs to develop plans would come from the community development portion of the town budget.
Cooper asked what the next step would be once Funktion Design returned with revised plans.
"Then the town board has to decide which option is the best for the community," Christensen said. "That option would be put forward on the April referendum ballot as a yes or no question."
His motion passed unanimously.
Brian Jopek may be reached via email at email@example.com.