Failed referendum affects more than school district

West Salem School District failed to pass its $32 million referendum to build new middle school

WEST SALEM, Wis. (WKBT) - Voters in West Salem were split on the two school referendum questions. They approved exceeding the revenue limit by $500,000, but voted down the proposal to build a new $32-million middle school. However, the district isn't the only group disappointed with the outcome.

If the referendum passed both the Boy and Girls Club and the West Salem Hockey Association were interested in using the current middle school. The Boys and Girls Club is looking to create a bigger, permanent space in West Salem and the hockey association has outgrown its current facility. Since the referendum didn't pass, it's back to the drawing boards for all three groups.

Now that votes are in and the West Salem School District knows it won't be building a new middle school in the near future, West Salem Superintendent Troy Gunderson said it's time to find out why.

"What are your main concerns? Why didn't you support this? So we kind of get a handle on what the community views as to what are they trying to tell us by voting no. What is the issue for them?" Gunderson said.

After talking to the community the district hopes to use that feedback to make its next move.

"Then sort of game plan moving forward. You know we're not in a situation where tomorrow we have to rent a trailer to put children in, I mean we've got facilities that we can use, but we should stop and think, what's the right thing moving forward?" Gunderson said.

But the school district isn't the only group left with questions now that the referendum has failed.

"We will continue, like we've done for the last five years or so, trying to find a permanent site in West Salem. That's been our goal. Where that ends up someday, I don't know," Mike Desmond, executive director with the Boys and Girls Club of Greater La Crosse, said.

"We have no idea on locations yet. We are going to continue to, obviously, search and try to find a future location for the program," said John Hammes, former president with the West Salem Hockey Association.

Both the West Salem Hockey Association and the Boys and Girls Club of Greater La Crosse have outgrown their facilities in West Salem and said the middle school had a lot to offer.

"What it had, the advantages foremost (are) right on school campus. So, in terms of, you don't have all the issues of transporting kids and all kinds of this stuff. Kids can leave school and come right to the Boys and Girls Club. So being on campus was a huge advantage," Desmond said.

Now all three groups may have to look into other options.

"I think the important piece for us is going to be strike while the iron's hot. In other words, get these people back in a room and start saying "what did you hear? What are people saying? What communications are you getting?' Formulate the plan going forward while everybody's mind is fresh in this instead of waiting," Gunderson said.

Gunderson said the next school board meeting is in two weeks. He said the topic of figuring out why the community voted down the referendum, and drawing up their game plan will be one of the first items on the agenda.

Both the Boys and Girls Club and Hockey Association said they will continue to search for a permanent location in West Salem, but they are waiting to hear what the school district's plan is going forward.

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