Denmark school feels pinch to expand
DENMARK – The commotion isn’t just confined to what happens as students pass one another in narrow hallways between classes at Denmark High School.
Consider this chaotic scene inside the school long after the school day ended Tuesday:
Members of Denmark’s track and field team ran sprints in one hallway and a few others stretched on the floor with exercise balls in another. At the same time, several students with horns, clarinets and other instruments zigzagged their way through the occupied spaces to move between classrooms to be judged in a music competition.
“There’s not enough space,” lamented Grant Vakselis, a Denmark junior who is involved in both track and field and music at the school.
Tired of the congestion, Vakselis and fellow students, staff and others are counting on the voting residents of the small rural community in Brown County to provide relief.
The Denmark School District has two referendum questions on the April 4 ballot, highlighted by a $14.9 million construction package that would improve the aging high school with new and remodeled spaces.
“There’s just not enough room for what we’re trying to do at this school,” said Izack Tenor, a Denmark High School junior.
Though Tenor likely would be a Denmark alumnus before the proposed overhaul of the school could wrap up in fall 2018, he’s hopeful his freshman brother will be among the first to enjoy the enhancements.
“You just want the best for them,” Tenor said.
The district’s facilities referendum would turn a combination cafeteria and auditorium into separate areas, build a new gymnasium, add an agriculture science lab and replace a small weight room with a fitness center for school and community use.
The borrowing package also would fund a new multipurpose room, expanded locker rooms, new equipment for the school’s technology education classes and a larger maintenance garage.
“We need a place that people are going to want to welcome their kids to,” said Tony Klaubauf, the Denmark School District administrator. “If you want people to move into (the district), most people that aren’t born and raised here can live in a number of other school districts where facilities are improving greatly, so we’ve got to compete with those.”
The referendum would add an estimated 31 cents per $1,000 of equalized home value to the district’s property-tax rate. That comes to an additional $46.50 a year for a $150,000 home.
“The cost isn’t very high. We’re not asking for anything exorbitant, by any stretch,” Klaubauf said.
The district also is seeking to exceed the state revenue limit by up to $925,000 a year for the next three years to fund future programming, personnel, security and transportation needs. That referendum would add cents to the tax rate, bringing the total cost of both referendums, if approved, to about $50 for the owner of a $150,000 home.
‘A generation behind’
In presentations on the referendums to parent and civic groups, Klaubauf flatly says, “We’re about a generation behind everybody else.”
He’s referring to the obsolete high school, which has about 450 students and is more than 50 years old. Nearby districts of similar size have all improved their schools.
“(They) all have new facilities,” Klaubauf said.
The gymnasium and the adjacent “cafetorium” at the front of the high school are at the top of the to-do list if the Denmark voters are in favor.
Though he’s optimistic, Klaubauf knows the community has been reluctant to back big improvement projects. His first year as district administrator in 2004 resulted in the second of four failed building referendums between 2003 and 2007 for renovations at the high school.
“They had two (swimming) pools on that referendum (in 2004) with the (new) gym, and it got just hammered,” Klaubauf said. “And, then we ran one (two years later) without the pool and people still thought we had the pool on there, and it got hammered again.”
The last big reconstruction at the high school was nearly 20 years ago.
The slogan on yard signs that sit in front of some homes in Denmark reads: “Vote Yes. It’s Time.”
“I think it’s a no-brainer for anybody who’s ever had kids here or is going to have grandkids here,” said Melissa Trepanier, who has two kids in district schools.
‘If we don’t do something now …’
The new high school gymnasium would double the current capacity of 800 spectators and have three basketball courts. Trepanier noted that would provide enough space for multiple sports teams when they have to practice inside. Her son’s baseball team has had to practice indoors on Sunday mornings this winter because of the space crunch, creating a conflict with other commitments for families.
The gym would be built in open space behind the school, along with the fitness center, multipurpose room and the ag-science room.
“I think (the district leaders) did a great job of maximizing the space they have (at the high school) and what they can add,” Trepanier said.
More space also would be gained by splitting up the cafeteria, which doubles as an auditorium for school plays and music productions.
The existing configuration has students eating lunch at portable tables in a multitiered area. When shows are held, the tables are replaced by folding chairs, but the sight lines are poor because the seats are in rows on a flat surface on each level.
“It doesn’t really seem like we have a real structure,” said Vakselis, who plays trumpet at the school. “They do the best that they can with what they have, but it seems more of a makeshift auditorium. I think we have a really good musical program, and in order to match that, we need something that can really showcase (the students) the best.”
A permanent auditorium with close to 600 cushioned seats would go in the existing space, with the top level becoming a commons and lunch area.
Eddie Duckart, a retired Denmark School District building engineer from Maribel, said upgrades at the high school are overdue.
“If we don’t do something now, if the people don’t vote this in and do something now, it’s going to be almost too late because they’re never going to catch up,” Duckart said. “They’re way behind, as far as gym facilities and everything.”
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If you go
What: Community meeting for Denmark school referendums.
When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday.
Where: Denmark High School, 450 N. Wall St., Denmark.
This article originally appeared on Wisconsin: Denmark school feels pinch to expand