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Will short-term growth support a long-term school building plan?

Mount Horeb Mail
Thursday July 10 2008
By michele kraft

While the debate about a new high school location has taken center stage, a very basic question may have been overlooked.

Does Mount Horeb expect to grow so much over the next several years that it needs to start building a new school now? Mount Horeb Area School District Superintendent Dr. Wayne Anderson thinks so and has led the controversial effort.

In response to the need for building renovations in the Primary Center and Intermediate Center, a Citizens' Committee was formed of school district residents. Anderson said the committee looked at the needs of the student population and asked for a plan that went beyond five or six years into the future. With a long-term, cost-effective solution in mind, Anderson began to plan for the future of Mount Horeb.

Having tracked enrolment since the 1970s, Anderson forecasts a great deal of growth in student numbers in the district during the next 20 years. The average increase in students from pre-kindergarten to twelfth grade has been 50 students per year for the last ten years, from 1823 students in 1997 to 2250 students in 2007.

"We have students that register every day," Anderson said, "so we already know there will be more than 50 [additional students this year]. When I did my projections, I estimated 75, because I knew that was greater and would give me a significant margin of error. I looked at how many years each of each of these proposals would take us out. Most would take us out about 17 years."

"Fifty students is extremely conservative," Anderson continued. "[Village Planner] Mike Slavney said the village's estimate was that, in 20 years, the village would be at 15,000 people. That's well over double [the current population]. The projections that we're using are many times less than that. That's taking us from 2300 students to 4600 students. We'd have to come back much earlier than 20 years. I'm a very conservative individual, so I use conservative numbers based on what we've already have for growth."

Mark Webber, branch manager of AnchorBank and chair of the Mount Horeb Community Development Authority, disagrees with these projections.
"I don't think the amount of growth is going to be comparable to what the village experienced in the last couple of years due to the amount of building permits that have been issued," Webber said.

According to Building Inspector Tim Dill, as of June 30, 2008, 11 uniform dwelling code (UDC) building permits have been issued this year. There were 31 in 2007, 45 in 2006 and 119 in 2005. UDC permits include one and two family homes.

Webber has been in Mount Horeb for 21 years and has seen the cycles the economy has gone through. He believes we are in a definite downturn.
"I don't think we should be in a rush to build the biggest capitol expenditure this town has experienced" Webber said.

Steve Haroldson, a resident of Mount Horeb and village trustee, is strongly against building and also cited the building permit figures as a way to project student population growth. He pointed out the enrollment figures from 2007.
"There were 696 students in high school, and 675 in fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grades. Haroldson said, "Those are the kids in the pipeline. It's not as if there are large classes coming up toward those four years. And there are fewer kids in first, second, third and fourth grades than there are in fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth. Since there are not existing children in the pipeline, they would have to come from new homes. The likelihood of our high school of reaching its existing capacity of 800 anytime in the next four or five years is doubtful."

When asked how our current economic downturn and high gas prices would affect these figures, Anderson remained steadfast.

"We don't have to have new construction for new students," Anderson said, "Fifty-one percent of our students come from outside of the Village of Mount Horeb. Whether the economy is up or down, children will have to go to school. The school district population isn't determined by new houses."

Responding to a May 18, 2008, Wisconsin State Journal article that listed Mount Horeb as the second coolest real estate market in Dane County, Anderson replied, "We still have plenty of new houses for students to move into. Even though this has been a down year, our student population will continue to go up."

Anderson noted that of the 426 school districts in the state, only 15 percent of those districts are still growing and Mount Horeb is one of them.
"We've been one [that is still growing] through this whole turmoil." Anderson said, "We have a lot of things going for us as far as students coming into our district, and this doesn't include the students that come in from outside of our school district. We gain more students than we lose with Open Enrollment. Whatever we don't build this year will only increase in cost because of inflation. Just an increase of five percent is an additional $300,000."

High School Principal Mike Garrow experiences difficulties with the school building every day, but sees this as a problem that is better than the alternative.
"I'd rather have the pains of growth than the pains of decline." Garrow said, "For example, over the last couple of years we've had to do a lot of room juggling, with teachers teaching off carts, having to move the study halls from classrooms back to the cafeteria. I have four foreign language teachers and three foreign language classrooms, I've got six math teachers, five math rooms, and those numbers just don't equate. It isn't anything that isn't do-able, it just isn't as comfortable. Realistically, the halls are narrow and they get extremely crowded. It's another one of those pains of growth."

"One of the things that attracted me to this community is this is a place where I wanted to raise my own kids," Garrow continued. "It is a good community, it has good people in it, it has good facilities, and you can tell the people support it. People research our district, and come here because of our reputation."

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