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Western Technical College to ask area voters for $79.8 million

Written by Patrick Anderson
Courtesy of The La Crosse Tribune
July 10, 2012

Full story also found on the the La Crosse Tribune website

Western Technical College officials will ask voters to approve a $79.8 million referendum in November to help pay for future building projects.

College officials approved a measure Monday that will put the referendum on the general election ballot for voters in 11 western Wisconsin counties to consider. The extra money would be a key part of the college’s strategic plan to add students, become more efficient and improve the pathway between classroom and workplace, Western President Lee Rasch said.

“How do we serve more people when we don’t have operating dollars?” Rasch said. “This is our overall strategy.”

The referendum would allow Western to issue bonds for more funding, even as the college loses money to tightened state budgets. Western eliminated jobs and programs last year to compensate for about $2.3 million in state budget cuts.

“The reality is the funding isn’t falling there,” Rasch said.

Here’s how the referendum would work:

If passed on the Nov. 6 ballot, property owners would see a tax increase — $3.25 monthly for a $100,000 home, or $39 a year.

Money from bonds would help foot the bill for six building projects, including an addition and remodeling of the technology center and renovations of the Coleman and Kumm centers. A new parking ramp also would be funded by the referendum, along with a greenhouse and an expanded space for the college’s diesel training program.

Construction would start in June 2013, officials say.

Adding two floors to Western’s technology building would make the structure a flagship for the college, Rasch said. The project’s $32.6 million price tag would pay for an energy-efficient facility with learning spaces that mimic the workplace. The new building would be large enough to house technology classes under one roof.

The $26.5 million remodeling of Coleman would give the outdated building newer classrooms for general instruction, Rasch said. Coleman was built in 1923 and last remodeled in 1971. The new Coleman would be safer and more energy-efficient, officials say.

While the ground level of Kumm has an updated kitchen and dining area, the upper floors would be renovated with $10.1 million for health and science classes.

“The buildings are old and the ways of education are changing,” Sally Lister, a Western board member who voted in favor of the referendum. “We’ll be able to make better use of the space that we have.”

Western’s strategic plan calls for more than new buildings. By 2020, officials hope to add 1,000 students, cut energy costs with efficiency projects and make programs more flexible to better meet the skill-training needs of students and employers.

The referendum would allow Western to grow in the face of budget cuts, officials say.

“This is the only way we can upgrade buildings on campus,” Lister said.

Rasch said the referendum could have a significant impact on the local economy as Western improves its ability to train a contemporary workforce.

“We’re not suggesting to wait for someone else to solve this,” he said. “We can do this on our own.”

Western officials will still follow the strategic plan if voters nix the referendum, but it will be hard to do with no projected increases in state funding, Rasch said.

“Then we just have a much steeper hill to climb,” Rasch said. “We realize that what we’re really asking for is the voter support on the facilities, but we’re asking them to consider it in light of the total plan.”

Published on July 10th, 2012