Task force recommends WAPS invest in current buildings

Goodview principal Emily Cassellius gives a tour

WAPS Community Task Force members get a tour of Goodview Elementary from principal Emily Cassellius before a meeting.

The Winona Area Public Schools Community Task Force has completed its homework. The future of District 861 facilities is now back in the hands of the school board — although task force members say they will remain committed to supporting the board in the process and will reconvene when needed.

Paul Aplikowski, partner at Wold Architects and Engineers, as well as three members of the task force — Jeremy Graves, Julie Biggerstaff and David Kuklinski — presented to the board a 102-page report that highlighted the work the group did over the course of 10 meetings that spanned four months. 

“The group was really great to work with,” Aplikowski said. “There was disagreement in the group, and we talked through some issues, but at the end we came to a consensus.”

And the consensus was? Continue to invest and improve the six current WAPS buildings — Washington-Kosciusko Elementary, Jefferson Elementary, Goodview Elementary, Winona Middle School, Winona Senior High School and Winona Area Learning Center. The task force vetted 12 different options — new construction, consolidating buildings, changing grade-level configurations and various combinations — before coming back to Option A. 

Future classroom possibility

This is an example of what a future classroom could look like in Winona Area Public Schools.

“We came a long way in this discussion,” said Graves, a technology coach and media coordinator at WAPS. “I would say where I started out and where I ended up, were two different spots. It was a good process. I felt like everyone had a chance to say their piece.”

One of the main priorities identified by the task force early on in the process was to make education accessible to all kids in order to serve them well. This was especially an issue at Jefferson and W-K, where some students face barriers in accessing rooms in the basement or need to use a different door than the rest of their classmates to enjoy the playground.

It also was important for the group to modernize the educational space throughout the district to improve student engagement, support 21st century learning and better connect students with opportunities in the community. At the elementary level, this would mean flexible learning spaces where walls disappear to improve the learning environment. At the high school level, this would mean updated career and technical education spaces that will prepare students to enter the workforce after graduation. 

By reinvesting in all buildings, task force members said, the recommendation does not pit schools or neighborhoods against each other as some previous referendums may have inadvertently done. It will also allow for the expansion of pre-K educational offerings in each elementary school building and will better allow for alignment with a student’s K-12 education.

Option A also improves spaces the community uses the most, such as redoing the bathrooms at Paul Giel Field, adding a gym at the high school that is sorely needed in the community, and also upgrades the locker room facilities at the high school. 

“I came into this process wanting a new school,” said Kuklinski, a community member on the task force. “I’m on board with this. I think we can sell this to the community, and I think they can embrace it.”

Community Task Force meeting

Paul Aplikowski of Wold leads a Community Task Force meeting at W-K in December.

The recommendation does come with a caveat — there is still more work to be done. Aplikowski strongly suggested that the board get the pulse of the community before moving forward with any referendum plans. This could include a scientific survey or other outreach strategies. 

The total cost of Option A as it stands is $85.5 million, but that may not be what the district asks the community to support. Aplikowski recommended that the task force’s work be used in creating a master facilities plan, and the board could later decide what to ask for and when. He also suggested that the board reconvene the task force at some point to continue the process, something that many task force members were eager to do. 

The recommendation truly was the work of the task force members, board chair Nancy Denzer said. She and fellow board member Michael Hanratty were on the task force, but they mainly stayed in the background and let the group work on its own. 

“Our task as board members was to listen and observe,” Denzer said. “We didn’t really participate, but instead, we watched what I considered to be an extraordinary effort from people who may not have known who else was sitting in that room. I appreciate that we not only came together, but the process in and of itself was really well done.”

The recommendation comes on the heels of the school board approving geothermal dehumidification projects at Jefferson and W-K, which will expand the possibilities for use of the two historic school buildings.