Westonka moves toward $22.95 million referendum

School board set to take action Jan. 25 on ballot language, likely spring election date  

The Westonka School Board expressed support for a $22.95 million spring referendum at the Jan. 11 school board meeting.

If approved by the district’s voters, the $22.95 bond would fund the construction of an estimated $7.5 million performing arts center and a $15.45
million community athletics and recreation center.

The performing arts space would have a 600-seat capacity, improved acoustics, a backstage area, an orchestra area and more storage.

The community athletics and recreation center would have three multi-purpose courts, walk-around track, fitness area, wrestling room and meeting room.

This Jan. 11 direction by the school board follows an October 2015 community meeting on Westonka facilities, a community survey of 400 randomly-selected individuals, time for input and previous school board discussion.

In October, six areas of concern were presented: indoor activities space, early childhood space, outdoor activities space, parking at Grandview Middle School, performing arts space and space for grade reconfiguration.

Following a community survey in November, the addition of indoor activity space and the addition of theater space emerged with the most community support in the event the district went out for a referendum.

In the survey, a referendum for indoor activities space and performing arts space together had 49 percent support and 45 percent opposition, with remaining respondents reportedly unsure.

When each project was considered alone, 56 percent of survey respondents indicated they would support a referendum for a community rec center and 53 percent of respondents would support a referendum for a performing arts space.

Besides the survey, the district talked with various groups in the community who might use the facilities.

According to Superintendent Kevin Borg, senior groups are interested in using the walk-around track and fitness areas during the day and attending school and community performances at a performing arts center. Youth sports organizations have expressed interest in adding teams, having more practice time and hosting more tournaments.

Borg said that additional tournaments and performances would be beneficial to the local economy.

“That pulls people into the community,” he said.

Response to the district’s discussions and plans has been generally favorable, according to Borg.

“The feedback has been largely, almost entirely, positive,” he said.

Up for discussion at the Jan. 11 meeting were the type of referendum question(s), the total bond amount and the election time. The facilities committee recommended that the school board hold a May 2016 vote with one combined question for a $22.95 million bond.

At a prior meeting, the board had discussed splitting the two projects into separate referendum questions, but the facilities committee recommended a single question and the board agreed.

“I think it’s the right time for the community, it’s the right approach, it’s the right level of investment,” Board Chair David Botts said.

Botts said he thought a split-question format could cause division.

Board Clerk Gary Wollner expressed agreement, saying “a lot of good thought” had been put into the facilities committee recommendation.

Various board members also agreed, and no one voiced opposition to moving forward with the recommendation.

No formal action was taken at the meeting. Borg will bring back the ballot language and other necessary steps to the Jan. 25 school board meeting.

The Westonka School Board meets at 7 p.m. in the Educational Service Center, located at 5901 Sunnyfield Road East.

Contact Katie Morford at [email protected]