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Politics & Government

Board Rejects Proposal For New Stadium Lights At Lakeland

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Wikimedia Commons GP Reimer
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MINOCQUA – A proposal to spend more than $313,000 on new stadium lighting for the Lakeland Union High School athletic field failed on a 5-3 vote by the school board Monday.

Administrator/Principal Jim Bouché noted the wooden poles and lighting fixtures were put in about 1980, making them nearly 40 years old. This past fall a transformer slipped its bands because the wooden pole had shrunk. It sent out sparks along wires before it was shut down and repaired.

“It’s like pounding sand down a rat hole” to keep them functioning, Bouché said of the stadium lighting repairs. “We need to be looking at this more seriously.” Board president Ed Schaub, Jon Berg and Sarah Kemp voted for the measure. Tom Gabert, Barb Peck, Shari Nimsgern, Barry Seidel and Emily Hallstrom voted against it. Gary Smith was absent.

The vote was the second time the lighting proposal has gone down to defeat. Last June, a similar proposal was shot down with only Berg in favor. Administration brought it back for two reasons: the district faces a Dec. 31 deadline if it wants to fold the financing into what’s called Wisconsin Act 32 enabling legislation that allows school districts to finance energy savings projects as long-term debt without having to go to referendum; secondly, that transformer issue sparked safety concerns.

Bouché offered that a one-time levy would add  5 cents to the current tax rate of $1.87, or $10 additional on a home valued at $200,000. Bouché argued that using Act 32 authorization was better than dipping into the fund balance (reserve fund), which likely will be needed in the future to finance repaving parking lots, replacing stadium seating and financing the proposed two charter schools for students living with autism. The administrator said the athletic field with new artificial turf is being used more than ever, with soccer joining football play there. If it had been approved, the contract for oversight would have gone to Schneider Electric, which has completed Act 32 renovations and repairs at the high school totaling nearly $15 million. The lighting project cost is $285,000 and would have gone to MUSCO Sports. But Schneider’s fee of 10 percent, or $28,500, for administering the subcontractor’s contract raised eyebrows last summer when the proposal first came up.

At least two board members wondered then why the district didn’t hire its own electrical contractor on what is viewed as a relatively simple project. Finance manager Greg Kopp explained that Act 32 requires schools using that financing route to hire an approved energy management company. Seidel said he saw both sides of the issue, but preferred asking voters through a referendum for their approval to retrofit and upgrade the stadium lighting, along with other projected outdoor projects. “The pros to this are that it does allow us to get money without having to dip into fund balance,” Seidel said. “It also allows us to get that project done and have it done for 30 years, and I can see the benefits of having extra lighting. “The cons are that first of all we are going to pay more for it. We are going to pay 10 percent more, well, maybe not full 10 percent, maybe 5 percent for sure, because we do it on Act 32 energy contract, which allows us to go directly to the taxpayer. That’s another con in my mind because we kinda went to the taxpayer with $14.5 million (of Act 32 projects) once recently. We did that saying that these are the things that we absolutely had to do and we were going to take responsibility for the rest.”

Hallstrom saw no rush to replace the lighting, saying it was “the last thing we would do” in the outdoor renovation projects. But Berg said the $10 additional tax was inconsequential on a $200,000 valued home and that the lighting upgrade would be a positive for the district. “Let’s do it!” he urged.

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