Western District Board OKs vote to fund facilities plan
Published on Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Western Technical College’s District Board on Monday approved a resolution authorizing the college to place a public referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Voters in 11 counties will be asked to approve a $79.8 million facilities referendum to fund six proposed capital facilities projects at Western. Along with upgraded curriculum, improved scheduling, and increased energy efficiency, the goal of the facility improvements is to allow the college to increase capacity and better serve a growing and diverse student population.
“We realize that this is a challenging economic time, but we also have to consider how important our role is in our region’s economic recovery,” said Western President Lee Rasch. “Local employers are looking to us to help them fill job vacancies with skilled workers. And, instead of a Band-Aid, we need to have a plan that will give these workers options for the future.”
The largest of the projects is the renovation and expansion of the current Applied Technology Center to create a comprehensive state-of-the-art Integrated Technology Center. A main component of the college’s Vision 2020 Strategic Plan is to create “occupational centers” where programs will work together, much like in a real job setting. The new technology center would allow several industrial programs to share classroom and lab space. For example, students studying mechanical design, CNC, and welding can work together in designing, modeling, and creating parts for equipment or other products.
Other projects include the renovation of the college’s oldest building, the Coleman Center, which was originally built in 1923; renovation of the upper floors of the Kumm Center to improve Nursing, Respiratory Technician, and Health Science program areas; expansion of the Diesel Training Center in the industrial park to eliminate the need for the currently leased annex building; construction of a Community Landscape Horticulture greenhouse facility; and the construction of a parking ramp.
In 1992, voters passed a referendum to generate funds for upgrading campuses in Independence, Mauston, Tomah, and Viroqua.
“The last time around, we focused on our regional locations,” said Rasch. “Now we need to improve our La Crosse facilities to better serve the growing number of students who make Western their college of first choice.”
Nearly one-third of high school graduates from 27 public schools in Western’s district come to Western within three years of graduating.
If voters approve the referendum, Western will be authorized to borrow the necessary funds over five years. The property tax impact on the owner of a $100,000 home is estimated not to exceed $39 annually with the $79.8 million borrowed over 20 years using conservative interest rate projections.
“Boiling it down, Western’s Vision 2020 is a commitment to increasing capacity and getting people into higher skilled jobs,” explained Rasch. “We know we have to do this without an increase in state funding, so our plan is to provide more access by supporting students with scholarships and improved scheduling. We’re asking the voters to support the facilities to make this happen.”
Fixtures, furniture and equipment costs needed for the new facilities would be built into Western’s annual capital borrowing and spread over four years with no additional tax impact, Rasch said. Net operating costs with the new facilities have been estimated to be equal or less than Western’s current regular operating budget, so there is no need for additional tax support, he said.
The referendum will require approval of voters in all or part of 11 counties including Buffalo, Clark, Crawford, Jackson, Juneau, La Crosse, Monroe, Richland, Sauk, Trempealeau, and Vernon.