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Referendum would fund Western Tech renovations

Written by Jenna Troum
Courtesy of WKBT La Crosse
July 10, 2012

Full story also found on WKBT website

Western Technical College has been a La Crosse landmark for a century.

But the Western Technical College District Board said if it's going to survive the next 100 years, it's going to need to make some serious changes.

Western Tech has a goal: train 1,000 more students a year by 2020.

In order to do that, the college's board said they need to bring their facilities up-to-date and make them more efficient.

But here's the problem: thanks to funding cuts, they don't have the cash.

"Well, we lost 30 percent in state aid last year and property valuation went down. And so that meant our operating funds in both areas went down," said Western Technical College President Lee Rasch.

The proposed solution is a referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot. Voters in 11 counties will be asked to approve a nearly $80 million plan for six building projects on the La Crosse campus, which will be funded by a tax increase.

Let's say you own a $100,000 home. You're probably going to pay about $39 more in property taxes a year, for 20 years.

"Now we're asking for the community to help us with that by helping with the facilities so that they're efficient, so that they help us in that mission. And if we do those things together, and we're able to serve up to 1,000 more students every year by the year 2020, that's going to have a huge impact on our community and the economy," said Rasch.

Western Technical College President Lee Rasch says many of the school's programs are scattered all over campus and need to be consolidated in one location. Plus, some of the buildings are still using decades-old equipment. Rasch said the community deserves a better learning environment.

According to a study conducted by the Wisconsin Technical College System, nearly one-third of graduates from 27 public high schools in the area enroll in Western within three years.

"If we're going to make some investments, we need to think of the long-term, not make some quick fixes or short-term patches, but take a serious look at how we can make an investment in our community and in the lives of people," said Rasch.

The largest of the building projects would be the renovation and expansion of the current Applied Technology Center.

"The idea is that building would go up two floors and would accommodate all of the college's industrial technologies under one roof. There's efficiency from a staffing standpoint, there's efficiencies from space," said Western’s vice president of finance and operations, Mike Pieper.

The college’s oldest building, the Coleman Center, would also be renovated. It was originally built in 1923.

Published on July 10th, 2012