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Peshtigo School District seeks voter approval
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EagleHerald staff writer

PESHTIGO — As the minute hand pivots up to midday hour, a distinctive tone marks its transition.

Moments later, doors swing open and the future—abuzz with youthful conversation—pours into the corridors at the Peshtigo Middle/High School.

The students—7{sup}th{/sup} to 12{sup}th{/sup} grade, and most still shy of voting age—make their way to lunch with youthful minds perhaps aware, or perhaps not, of the two approaching April 6 ballot box decisions awaiting voters’ decisions regarding the Peshtigo School District Referendum 2021.

Once again the Peshtigo spring election serves as the divergence point between two possible futures for the Middle/High School building and those who spend their days working and learning inside it. Voters rejected referendums in 2015, 2016 and 2018, due in part to their cost impact on levy rates and also the scope of building an entirely new building, losing much of its rich history.

However, after more than a year of research, open discussion with the community and development of a plan that preserves the legacy and history of the current Middle/High School building, the Peshtigo School District put forth a renovation and upgrade that presents voters with a more cost-effective proposal (see FINANCIAL CLIMATE FAVORS REFERENDUM). Likewise, it is a plan that continues to deliver the kind of educational opportunities that meet the needs of current and future Peshtigo students.

“We have listened and conducted open dialog with multiple stakeholders and I think we have realized that this is the best possible solution,” said Peshtigo School Board President Mariel Carter, speaking in favor of Referendum 2021. “It will fill the need of the students now and will also fill needs for students years and years to come.”

REFERENDUM RUNDOWN: 2 QUESTIONS, 2 PROJECTS

Breaking it down, Referendum 2021 encompasses two questions regarding two separate district projects.

“(Those projects) will allow us to renovate and address long-standing maintenance needs while also giving us an opportunity to add learning space and provide modern educational programming for all students,” said Peshtigo School District Superintendent Patrick Rau.

The first question asks voters for $33.2 million in financing for upgrades to the Middle/High School building’s aging infrastructure and expanding available learning space at the school by 25,000 square feet. The proposal retains the current structure but returns it to “like new” condition.

The second seeks voter consent for an additional $1.825 million for land development on a large acreage just west of the Peshtigo Elementary School, which will serve as a green space for use by student extracurricular activities and also for use by the public. It would include athletic fields, parking, public toilets, bleachers, lighting and other features.

INFRASTRUCTURE NEEDS

An affirmative vote on Referendum 2021 enables many significant improvements to the current Middle/High School building infrastructure as well as additional educational enhancements and opportunities afforded students.

Presently, the oldest section of the building dates back to 1936. Moreover, timeworn and outmoded facility equipment can make it difficult to maintain climate control in some areas of the building. Fire safety enhancements, more efficient energy consumption, safety code upgrades and further addressing compliancy with the Americans with Disabilities Act are additional issues addressed by the renovation. Also, increased use of technology requires access to modern power sources, which, in older sections of the building, sometimes poses an obstacle for a student or teacher seeking to connect a device or piece of equipment to the grid.

“(The school) has very specific needs,” Carter emphasized. “We don’t want these things updated just because we ‘want’ them; we want them updated because (the school) needs them to be updated.”

According to the Penn State Center for the Evaluation of Education Policy Analysis, “a growing body of research” shows a facility’s quality of infrastructure acts as a critical predictor of teacher retention and student learning. The physical and emotional health of students and teachers rely heavily on the establishment of a safe, healthy facility.

“And just going through this last year (the pandemic) only serves to emphasize the need for proper ventilation and airflow through the building,” Rau said.

BEYOND INFRASTRUCTURE, PROGRAMMING UPGRADES

Another component of the Middle/High School renovation brings positive impacts to the industrial technology program and other areas of curriculum.

“The manufacturing and construction trades offer so many career opportunities in the Peshtigo and surrounding areas,” Rau said. “Our facilities need to introduce all students to these career possibilities.”

In its current state, the Middle/High School building lacks the “right space” and adequate space to address all needs of such programming, he explained. For example, the program operates with a shortage of equipment such as computer numerical control (CNC) machines used in milling and other industrial operations.

“When you think of Peshtigo and Marinette. you think of manufacturing,” Rau said. “We want to be able to expand that lab space and have the right equipment … so kids can get interested in those areas and career opportunities that are here locally.”

Such programs serve area communities in ways that reach beyond the classroom. Mike Paquette, a technology education teacher at the school illuminated the knowledge and skill-base such programs impart to students, which successively translates to benefits for local businesses and industries with whom the district maintains partnerships. Those businesses include Fincantieri Marinette Marine, Waupaca Foundry, Aacer Flooring and others.

Troy Cording, shop manager at Franks Logging Inc., can testify to how those partnerships contribute to students and businesses. At Franks, industrial technology high school students participate in apprenticeship learning experiences. Under supervision, they primarily perform maintenance on over-the-road equipment vehicles.

“Any time that additions can be made to industrial tech programs for students is definitely a benefit for us,” Cording said. “It’s about getting students interested in the repair field … getting their feet wet, getting them exposed to it. And that is important because the employee pool in this area is very small.”

OTHER PROGRAMMING BENEFITS

Senior Emily Halfmann participates in both choir and band at the high school and carries aspirations for musical theatre and theatre education in college. She explained that the band and choir programs both struggle with a lack of space and proper rooms for acoustic effectiveness and performance. For example, the choir practices in one of the old classrooms where space is limited. While Halfmann graduates in less than a year, she hopes the referendum helps those and other programs expand for future students.

“The referendum will help the district to grow and improve,” she said. “We need the referendum to pass.”

The building renovation would also include expansion of the gymnasium, outfitting it with acoustical treatments, lighting and audio equipment to better serve performance groups. It would also include an additional weight room and other athletic space.

“We need a learning environment that is not only up to date but one that also affords students the ability to easily transition into the workforce or college,” Carter said. “We are a small community but I think the diversity of our community succeeds when we are providing for the different ideas and dreams that students want to follow.”

But at a deeper level, and as part of the referendum “Vote Yes” group, she hopes that area residents invest a few moments of their time, educate themselves and then head to the polls empowered to make an informed decision.

“We (Vote Yes) are a group of citizens who want this referendum to pass,” she said. “Our goal is to get accurate information out to the public so they are aware that there is an election on April 6 and they know what they are voting for.”


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Pound man charged with sex crimes in human trafficking sting

MENOMINEE—A Pound man was arraigned before Judge Robert Jamo in the 95-A District Court of Menominee following his arrest in the City of Menominee in a decoy-style human trafficking sting operation.

Menominee County Prosecuting Attorney Jeffrey T. Rogg previously charged Jeremy L. Bertrand, 33, Pound, a three-count felony complaint alleging child sexually abusive activity, use of a computer to commit child sexually abusive activity and accosting a child for immoral purposes.

The charges arise from an incident alleged to have occurred a March 19, in which the Menominee Police Department, the Menominee County Sheriff’s Office and the Michigan State Police worked in collaborative operation with the Genesee County, Michigan, Sheriff’s Office and the Upper Peninsula Human Trafficking Task Force (UPHTTF) by chatting online with potential consumers intending to engage children in sexually abusive activity at a local hotel in Menominee. The facts filed with the court in support of the felony complaint allege that Bertrand answered one of the online ads and agreed to pay for sex with a minor.

“The task force is a nonprofit organization to work alongside those that enforce the law against human trafficking violations here in the state,” said Stephanie Krieger, president of the UPHTFF.

Rogg commended the proactive efforts of law enforcement and emphasized that “no children were used in the operation; it was a safe and effective strike against crime in our community.” He thanked the additional law enforcement agencies who also aided the operation: UPSET, Marinette Police Department, Escanaba Department of Public Safety, WI-DCI and Menominee County 911.

Jamo appointed attorney Jane C. W. Hansen, Menominee, to represent Bertrand. A probable cause conference is scheduled for April 5 at 4 p.m.; the preliminar examination is scheduled for April 12 at 8:30 a.m. Jamo established a bond $75,000, cash or surety.

The charges are allegations and all criminal defendants are presumed innocent unless proven beyond a reasonable doubt.


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TENTATIVE TIMELINE, IF APPROVED

TENTATIVE TIMELINE, IF APPROVED

Should voters give their approval, the next step would be securing project financing in May or early June followed by more detailed planning and design work.

Rau estimated April of 2022 as to when the first shovel breaks ground with construction of both the Middle/High School building renovation and the green space development lasting 30 to 36 months.

“It will be a phased project,” he said. “It is important for everybody to realize that the school is a school first and a construction site second.”

Major project construction would occur during the summer and school breaks.


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