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Aging schools provide challenges in repairs and improvements

LA CROSSE CO., Wis. - Having good teachers as well as up-to-date school buildings are just a couple of factors that add to student success in the classroom.

A new report from the Center for Green Schools suggests $542 billion will be needed in the next decade to update and modernize all public school buildings throughout the country.

At a time when school budgets are tight, money for the repairs and maintenance can be hard to come by, but educators in the La Crosse and Onalaska school districts said investing in the changes is worth it.

"We want our schools to reflect the good things that are happening inside of them, and so curb appeal is important," said Randy Nelson, La Crosse School District superintendent.

Nelson said keeping up with curb appeal for the district's 16 buildings has its challenges.


"We have older buildings," said Nelson. "Over the decades, different types of building structures and different types of methods of buildings and doing roofs, for example, have changed."

Voters recently approved a $15.7 million referendum to construct a new Northside Elementary School instead of making repairs to some of the district's older buildings.

"We're spending maybe $300,000 to 400,000 year-round, right now and it probably should be more than that, but that's all we can afford with our budget," said Larry Dalton, finance director of the Onalaska School District.

Out of the three elementary schools in Onalaska, Dalton said Northern Hills needs the most work, but the budget may not be able to handle all of the needed improvements.

The school was built in the 1970s, and is now a bit out of date.

"Teachers have partitioned off their instructional area in this building, but there are really not walls," said Dalton. "It was built with an open concept. That was a way of teaching that was invoked in the '70s."

Details are still in the works for updating Northern Hills, but Dalton said maintaining and modernizing school buildings is just a part of helping students succeed.

"Things like natural daylight can help students," said Dalton. "Certainly the acoustic environment, can they hear OK? Visually, you want some stimulation, but not too much stimulation. Square footage, do they have enough space? Things like that can influence learning."

Dalton said they are still in the very early stages of planning for updates and repairs to Northern Hills Elementary.

He said the district is currently working with an architect to compare how much it would cost to make repairs versus rebuilding the school.

Nelson said it will take about six months of planning and another 18 months to build the new Northside Elementary School.

The district is hoping for an opening date in the fall of 2014

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