The end might be near for the nearly 100-year-old building on 1st Street in Evansville.

If a referendum passes in November, JC McKenna Middle School would be replaced by a new middle school on the same site.

The school board approved in April putting two referendum questions on the November ballot.

The new middle school would account for $24.8 million of the $34 million facilities referendum.

In its nearly 100-year history, JC McKenna has served as the district’s elementary, middle and high school, according to historical documents provided to The Gazette by Evansville Historian Ruth Ann Montgomery.

The building is a conglomeration of two former stand-alone buildings and a handful of additions.

Principal Joanie Dobbs said it is time for the community to decide whether it wants to continue putting patches on the building or make an investment in something new.

By the dollars

If approved, the $34 million facilities referendum would increase a homeowner’s annual tax bill $15 per $100,000 of property value. The referendum would be paid off over 20 years.

The $1.2 million operational referendum also on the November ballot would lead to an annual increase of $9 per $100,000 of property value in each of the next five years.

If both referendums pass, tax bills in 2019 would increase $24 per $100,000 of property value each year for two years, Roth said.

If both referendums pass, taxpayers would see a decrease in the tax in 2021 because the district will finish paying off debt from construction of Evansville High School, District Administrator Jerry Roth said. Voters in 2000 passed a $25.5 million referendum to finance the high school project, according to data from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

In 2021, residents would see tax bills decrease $88 per $100,000 of property value, Roth said. That means if both referendum pass, residents will see a $64 decrease per $100,000 from what they are paying now.

The remaining $9.2 million of the $34 million facilities referendum will go toward:

  • Replacing part of the roof at Evansville High School, $620,000.
  • Improving security at the Grove Campus, $2.3 million.
  • Updating the technical education classrooms and engineering labs at the high school, $3.1 million.
  • Infrastructure improvements at the Grove Campus, $3.18 million.

“To be honest with you, with an aging building it gets more expensive to run,” Roth said. “The most cost-effective way to meet the needs of our learners today is to build a new facility.”

Nuts and bolts

Many plans involving the potential new school will not be determined until after the referendum has been decided. The district would not have blueprints drawn until after the referendum, Roth said.

The district has started mulling potential solutions for how to continue instruction during construction, Roth said.

Options include:

  • Using portable classrooms.
  • Moving students to other facilities with space in the district in addition to portable classrooms.
  • Using the south half of the current middle school while the north half is torn down, then moving students into the new building and tearing down the remainder of the current school.

Dobbs said she would like to keep the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade classes together during construction to maintain normalcy.

The new school would include a two-story structure with standard classrooms, a fitness area, larger gymnasium, a STEM/ technical education area and music rooms with improved sound-proofing, Roth said.

The new building would be built around the existing cafeteria, library and kitchen area, which was added in 2001.

Addressing concerns

Dobbs’ primary concern with the middle school is its American with Disabilities Act compliance, she said.

The building is up to code but leaves people with mobility issues to navigate some hurdles that isolates them from others, Dobbs said.

To get from one end of the school to another, people with disabilities have to use two elevators, Dobbs said. One elevator is accessible only through a back door behind the auditorium stage.

The school has purchased temporary ramps to use over staircases, Dobbs said.

Two students at the middle school have mobility issues, and dozens of visitors and family members frequent the school who need assistance, Dobbs said.

The school splits its band in two because the band room has space for only half of its students, Dobbs said. The entire band gets few opportunities to practice together before concerts.

The room is not adequately sound-proofed, and students in math class across the hall can hear instruments being tuned and voices warming up, Dobbs said.

Physical education classes are restricted because of the gym’s size, Dobbs said. Groups of students have to exercise in rounds because there is not space for everyone at once.

Debating change

Dobbs said some people are opposed to the referendum because they want the nearly 100-year-old building to be preserved.

“They want to save some architectural value, and it’s hopeful that we will be able to do that, but you know it always comes down to the most efficient use of the dollars to do that,” Roth said.

The district and community members want to build a new middle school at the current location because it is central to the community, close to other district schools and within walking distance for many residents, Roth said.

The only other option to keep the old building and allow for a new one would be to push the new building to the outskirts of town, which many community members don’t want, Roth said.

The current JC McKenna building opened in the fall of 1921 as the district’s elementary school, according to documents.

The district opened a new high school adjacent to the elementary school in fall 1939.

The two schools were linked in 1978 and reopened as JC McKenna Middle School.

The school was named after longtime superintendent and business manager of the Evansville School District, John C. McKenna, who died a year before the schools were linked.

Walking through JC McKenna, it is hard to ignore the architectural details.

Small tiles with frogs, camels, rabbits, seashells baseball players and other cartoon figures dance along the walls.

In one area, a large archway towers over middle school students walking to class and reads “boys entrance.” The former girls entrance still exists but has been covered during building additions, Dobbs said.

“People still like to see some of the old architecture,” Roth said.