New Oconto Falls middle school details begin to take shape

Additional referendum projects heading out for bid
Warren Bluhm

The Oconto Falls School Board got a sneak peek March 13 at the secure entrance improvements planned this summer at the district’s two elementary schools and the high school.

The improvements were approved in November at the same time voters OK’d building a new middle school to replace aging Washington Middle School.

Russ Schumacher of Nexus Solutions and Superintendent Dean Hess walked the board through floor plans for the improvements, which involve making visitors report to the main office to be vetted before being allowed into the building.

Changes at Abrams Elementary School will involve the most work, Schumacher said, including the addition of a secure vestibule near the entrance and relocating the principal’s office.

Hess said he was asked during the referendum campaign whether the schools already have secure entrances, and the answer is that they have electronic access, which is slightly different.

“The way it is now is somebody can walk up to those doors, they talk to someone in the main office, then they are buzzed in, they walk through those doors and now they have access to the whole building,” Hess said. “We’re creating a situation where when they get buzzed in, they have to come into that main office to be further vetted.”

The bid process is just beginning and takes about a month, with money coming from the $37.6 million in bonds being issued as a result of the referendum, Schumacher said.

Most of the funds are being used for the new middle school, but the initiative also includes the secure entrances and roof repair and replacement to the district’s three other school buildings.

The entrances and roof repair at Abrams and Oconto Falls High School are scheduled for this summer, and the roof of Oconto Falls Elementary School is to be done in the summer of 2024. The delay at OFES is because summer school is held there, and waiting a year gives the district time to figure out the logistics of the 2024 summer school, Hess said.

Schumacher also gave the board an early look at plans for the middle school, which is projected as a two-story building, including a larger gymnasium than originally proposed — more than 9,000 square feet as opposed to the about 7,500-square-foot facility envisioned during the campaign.

Recent tours of other newly built middle school facilities led the design team — a group that includes school and community members — to recommend more room to accommodate spectators and two cross-courts in addition to the main basketball court, he said.

Additional conversations are in progress about the details of the various aspects of the building’s interior, along with how the building looks from the outside, Schumacher said.

“We had initial shot with the design team, they want us to go back to the drawing board in a few areas, and we’ll bring that back again,” he told the board. “So hopefully a month from now we’ll be able to share with you an updated, more fleshed-out floor plan, elevations and site drawings, and then after you’ve had a chance to look at them, comment on it, we’ll hold a public session to get the public’s input on it.”

Hess emphasized the public has plenty of time to give feedback on the design of the school, which is projected for a fall 2025 opening.

“It’s starting to take shape, but it’s important to note that it’s the beginning,” he said.