Wisconsin News

How your taxes will expand Western Technical College

LA CROSSE, Wis. - Voters in 11 counties weighed in on whether to fund an $80 million construction project on Western Technical College's La Crosse campus.

The referendum passed with 54 percent of the votes.

But although a majority of people voted yes, a majority of counties as a whole voted no.

Six out of the 11 counties – Buffalo, Clark, Crawford, Jackson, Richland and Vernon -- voted no on the proposal. Juneau, La Crosse, Monroe, Sauk and Trempealeau counties voted yes.

Western Tech president Lee Rach said he hopes voters in all of those counties will come to see how the changes will affect students who live outside of La Crosse too.

"Western is this region's college. And they voted, they're partners, they're stakeholders. And so I think, with that, comes that responsibility to be a full partner in return," said Rasch.

Someone with a $100,000 house can expect to pay about $39 more a year in property taxes, for the next 20 years.

After years of planning and nearly 200 presentations all over the community, the campaigning for Western Tech's construction project has come to an end.


But now, Western Tech administrators say the real work is just getting started.

Western Tech Landscape Horticulture Program head, Pete Bemis, couldn't believe the good news.

"I just had to sit down and go, 'Wow. Now what?'" said Bemis.

It's a question administrators, teachers and students are asking themselves all over campus.

It's also a question voters are asking now that the referendum funding the school's six proposed building projects is officially a go.

One of the first projects is building an Urban Landscape and Agriculture Center.

"I'm having students say, 'I want to drop out and come back when it's built,'" said Bemis.

That's because the new facility will have all the latest technology. Right now, the school doesn't even have a greenhouse.

"We have to travel off campus to a site. We don't control everything we want to control. We don't control the lighting, the temperature, the fertilizing -- all elements of growing plants that we need to teach the students," said Bemis.

The biggest project will be a new Integrated Technology Center, bringing departments currently spread all over campus into one central hub.

Dean of Western's Industrial Technologies Division, Bill Brendel, said it will allow the departments to collaborate, which is something potential employers want in their future hires.

"To be able to work in teams, to be able to see a project from beginning to end, to be able to collaborate -- that's the skilled worker of the future that they're looking for," said Brendel.

Now that voters have put their trust and their tax dollars into the project, Rasch said he's determined they'll see a big return on their investment.

"The community stepped up and supported us. Now we have to, in return, do what we can to serve more people, to get more graduates, to do the things we've been talking about," said Rasch.

Another one of the first projects the school intends to work on is a new parking structure. It will be built on the site of the current parking lot on the corner of Eighth and La Crosse streets, and add 220 new spaces.

The plan is to have all six building projects completed by 2016. It's part of the school's larger goal to train 1,000 more students a year by 2020.

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