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May 28, 2020

5/5/2020 4:11:00 PM
Ridgeway plan commission discusses RES building offer

The Planning Commission for the Village of Ridgeway spent a good share of their meeting Tuesday discussing the Ridgeway school building that suddenly became up for grabs through a very fast and recent decision by the Dodgeville School Board to close the elementary center at the end of the school year.
The decision came basically out of nowhere according to parents who had children attending the learning center and from Ridgeway residents who spent much of their learning years in that building.
While parents of children cried foul and asked for more time, the board proceeded with the decision to close which narrowly passed 4-3 at their April board meeing. Concerns from Ridgeway included a lack of time to explore options other than complete closure which was promised and what they also view as twisted financial numbers and leaving the village with a broken down building.
In short, several who attended said they do not trust the school board.
That being said, the commission heard good news from commission member Anne Larson of True Blue Realty who said she feels it is the school district's loss as Ridgeway is on the verge of tremendous growth. She also said she feels the building could be a valuable part of that with the potential for village offices, a community center, business incubator, place for child care and senior citizen needs. She said there are many ways the building could be used that would benefit the village.
Larson felt so passionate about it that she commissioned the BrickKicker Home Inspection firm to formulate a 54 page report on the condition of the building and the potential cost of bringing it into code.
Jon Steen, chairman of both the village board and the planning commission, said he received a letter from Dr. Jeff Jacobson who said the board is discussing selling the building to the village for $1.00. Steen said there has to be some study done before making a decision and added he feels the residents of the village should have input.
The inspection report shows that there are both major and minor problems with the building and to bring everything up to code could cost a couple hundred thousand dollars right away. As was noted by the school district the boilers need replacing and an asbestos issue needs to be solved.
"Heating and cooling are the big items," Larson said.
Larson said she has received home inspection reports which are much worse than the one on the RES building.
One of the concerns by the commission was that the school district let the building get in such a poor state through neglect over the years.
Mary Kay Baum, who is a member of the Village Board, suggested having a feasibility study done by Southwest Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission. The SWWRPC did the village's comprehensive plan in 2005.
It was also suggested that the residents of the village be allowed input with an informational meeting to be held when the reports are in.
"Openness is important with what we have already gone through with the building," one meeting attendee said.
It was also noted that which the school district would not be able to get grants for studies, asbestos removal, etc., the village could.
Also, Larson said, a feasibility report would give stability and set up the building use.
Commission member and longtime Ridgeway resident Rick Short said he would hate to see the building go away but also knows what is done must be cost effective.
"I have a lot of memories in that building," said Short. "I would hate to see it go away."
Larson injected that bids for repairs and feasibility would be good things to be able to bring to an open meeting.
"There are a lot of grants out there that could be used for what could be put into the building," she said.
Steen said there needs to be a breakdown of what it will take to bring the building up to code and who to hire to see what can be done.
Gus Bellinger, a member of the commission, agreed that SWWRPC should be contacted about a feasibility study which he and Larson feel should be step one.
Commission members expressed concern that the school district could sell the building out from under them unless there was something legal to prevent that. One fear is that developers have been buying closed school buildings and with Vortex growing there may be a need for more housing.
Larson said that could be taken care of through an attorney who could spell out the village's interest to the school board by the village board, indicate a time line and still give the village the right to pull out at any time.
The commission then decided that contacting SWWRPC, sending a letter via their attorney and holding a village information meeting should be the approach that should be taken.
Allen asked the commission to keep an open mind about starting a stand alone school which would serve the needs of the Ridgeway community. She also said she found the letter to the village from the school board to be insulting considering the decades of neglect concerning RES.
"The school district had the opportunity to market RES and the many good things that happen there but they did not," she said. "We have provided millions of dollars for the district over the years and it all went into educating Dodgeville students. They haven't valued us for quite some time."
She concluded by asking that the concept of a stand alone school be included in the feasibility study.
Prior to the discussion of the RES building the commission heard reports on the plat and the planning specs for phase II of Cardinal Way subdivision. After discussing lot sizes, rip rap removal and drainage the commission forward both items to the next meeting of the full Village Board.
The commission also received a request from Bruce and Donna Paull to annex their Hy-Vista Dairy Farm into the village from the township. The property is being sold to a buyer who wants to maintain it as a "hobby farm" and the finalization of the sale would work better if the property was in the village rather than the township. The potential new owner said he was not asking for sewer and water as he would have his own well and septic.
Autume Gollon who is the realtor handling the transaction said the acreage being asked to be annexed is 23.044. She said she has talked with the Iowa County zoning administrator and he sees no issues.
The request will be forwarded to the Village Board with contingencies built in for their review.

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