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School District of Rhinelander is asking voters to approve $26 million referendum to update its tech ed facilities

School District of Rhinelander

The technology education [tech ed] courses like auto, woodworking, and house building are popular at Rhinelander High School.

High School Principal Shane Dornfeld says course requests in the tech ed areas have doubled over the past three years.

“We want to give students all kinds of different experiences in the tech ed areas,” said Dornfeld.

It’s not just students wanting to learn, local employers are always looking for employees that have these skills.

Dornfeld says the experiences the students have through the curriculum, dual credit options, internships, and job shadowing all help prepare them for whatever comes next.

“When they leave RHS, they can be ready for the world of work, for the military, for school, whatever they want to do, and have a clear path towards that on where they're going,” said Dornfeld.

As WXPR reported in 2022, more Wisconsin students are choosing to go directly into the workforce following high school.

James Williams Middle School Principal Kyle Raleigh says through these courses, students are also learning the soft skills that are highly sought after by employers in all fields.

“Yes, we're teaching the technical skills, but when we started looking at some of these design projects and whatnot, it doesn't always come out perfect the first time,” he explained. “The kids have to step back, problem solve, work with each other in order to redesign. That was another portion it's really helped push.”

The School District of Rhinelander did a facility study in 2021 that led to the tech areas being recognized as a priority.

The district hired another tech ed teacher this school year to help meet the demand from students for these courses. But the district is running into issues, primarily with space.

The currently tech ed facility was built in 1958, a lot, but not all, of the equipment has been updated.

If passed by voters, the $26 million referendum would update and expand tech education classrooms and equipment in both the high school and middle school.

“[In] our tech area, we have some fantastic teachers doing incredible things,” said SDR Superintendent Eric Burke. “It's time to improve those areas so we can help our students, not only get experience, but also help prepare them for whatever is next.”

Businesses and community members have already shown support for the expansion with donations.

A district-wide survey also showed voters would be in favor of the referendum, including those that don’t work for or don’t have students in the district.

School District of Rhinelander

While the main focus of the referendum is the tech ed facilities, the money would also go towards other improvements in the high school and middle school. Those include:

Rhinelander High School

  • Add a dedicated space for construction classes
  • Add auto/small engine/ marine shop space
  • Relocate and expand the wood shop
  • Renovate metal/welding/manufacturing shop
  • Create a fab lab and robotics area
  • Renovate 1958 restrooms

James Williams Middle School

  • Add tech ed labs and classrooms
  • Relocate and update family and consumer education classrooms
  • Renovate and update the choir classrooms
  • Add special education classrooms
  • Renovate existing offices and improve building security
  • Improve bus pick-up/drop-off traffic flow

The estimated cost to taxpayers would be about $29 for $100,000 in property value.

“We believe that the investment is, our community is definitely worth it, for what it will do for our students, as well as the community,” said Burke.

The question will be on the April 2nd ballot for voters who live within the School District of Rhinelander.

The School District of Rhinelander is hosting a few community meetings. February 28, 6:00 p.m. at James Williams Middle School. March 6, 6:00 p.m. at Rhinelander High School Library. March 20, 9:00 a.m. at the Hodag Dome.

People will get to tour facilities at the February 28 and March 6 meetings and be able to ask questions at all three.

You can learn more about the referendum and expansion plans on the School District of Rhinelander website.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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