School referendum: Beyond the price tag
BY MIKE WARREN
Part II of V
MARSHFIELD – If the Marshfield School District’s $99.5 million referendum is successful on April 4, there are areas of Marshfield High School that – aside from regular routine maintenance – would get upgraded for the first time since being constructed more than 55 years ago. As our series on the proposed improvements continues, we take a closer look at the kitchen and Commons areas of MHS.
The proposed improvements were identified by the district’s Community-Based Facility Planning Committee, a group of school officials and residents who have been working since May 2022 to create a new long-range facility plan for the district.
“The high school quickly took on a big component to the focus of the work and the interest that the planning committee narrowed in on,” said Superintendent Dr. Ryan Christianson, during a recent program Hub City Times produced, in conjunction with Marshfield Broadcasting. “That’s why such a big portion of the work for the facility referendum does focus on the high school,” he added.
“The high school staff identified the Commons as the top overall facility need that we have at the high school,” according to Christianson. “The Commons is the hardest-working area of any large high school facility, like a Marshfield High School. It is used every period of the day,” he noted. “Kids come in and out or are constantly flowing through that. It is regularly used for activities outside of the school day. When it comes to community members and other visitors, the Commons is the most-visited space anywhere within a high school facility.”
The biggest job the Commons area has during any given school day is serving as a cafeteria for the building’s 1,254 students.
Terry Frankland, who served on the Community-Based Facility Planning Committee which came up with the referendum package, toured the Commons when it was in full operation during several lunch periods last May.
“I was astounded about what was going on there,” Frankland said of his visit. “It’s well organized, don’t get me wrong, but the congestion is unbelievable. We had students still waiting in line for lunch with less than 10 minutes of their lunch period to go,” Frankland recalled. “And they still needed to get their lunch, eat their lunch and go to class. Now I don’t know if they take some food and carry it to class. They do a good job trying to get the students through, but with that mass of people it’s hard.”
“It’s important to keep in mind that the Commons and kitchen area of Marshfield High School continues to be the same footprint of the 1968 construction,” Christianson pointed out. “When the building was constructed in 1968 we had three grades and it was built for about 800-900 students. We now have four grades with the ninth grade having moved to the high school, and about 1,200 students in the facility. When the ’94 addition was put on the building to accommodate the ninth grade moving there, there was no expansion to the Commons or kitchen area. It’s still the original space when the building was first constructed. We’ve actually operated a master schedule at Marshfield High School for almost thirty years now, driven by the fact that we have a Commons and kitchen that’s too small,” Christianson added.
“It’s also important to note that this proposed improvement to the kitchen and Commons area not only expands the square footage space of the Commons itself, it would involve the installation of a dedicated, permanent kitchen servery space. Right now, because it’s the original kitchen that was built back in ’68, we can’t use that original serving area in the kitchen. We actually have mobile server units that we have to roll out and roll back in on a daily basis. So, that’s really what contributes to that congestion issue that we’ve had for going on thirty years now.”
Average daily participation in the hot lunch program at the high school is about 400 kids, along with the 125 students who are served breakfast each day. Also generating a steady crowd is the ala carte line, which sells roughly $1,100 worth of food items each day.
But those aren’t the only students served by the high school kitchen staff. The MHS kitchen is also preparing more than a thousand lunches for the district’s five elementary schools.
“So, we’re talking in the range of 1,400-1,500 hot lunches that are prepared in the Marshfield High School kitchen every school day,” Christianson noted. “So, when we’re talking about that number of meals, and the fact that we’re running the hot lunches for the elementary buildings out of that same kitchen, our hot lunch program could certainly benefit from an improvement to the facilities in the kitchen at Marshfield High School.”
Christianson also dispels a common misconception that bigger Commons and kitchen spaces are not needed because of a dwindling high school student population.
“We do not have declining enrollment at the high school level,” he says. “The school district as a whole, and certainly at the high school level, has benefitted from open enrollment. It is pretty common for students from surrounding communities and other districts when they get to the high school level, because of the wide variety and diversity of course offerings that we have, to transfer into our high school. Our high school enrollment numbers are quite healthy. But again, it’s important to keep in mind that the issue that we’re talking about here has been an issue for thirty years. This isn’t a new issue.”
Along with a relocated main office and secure entrance, the Commons area would be expanded to the south, and would fill in the concreted space that currently exists between the fieldhouse and music area on either side. A new high school main office would also be added adjacent to the secure entrance, just to the west.
“There’s not a clearly-identifiable single main entrance into the building,” Christianson noted.
The plan also calls for a reconfigured circle drive for improved traffic flow and more efficient student pickup and dropoff activities. “That is another common concern that we hear regularly from parents,” Christianson said.
Another noticeable change would reconfigure the current teacher/visitor parking lot that’s within the circle drive, to allow for entry from the south, along with an additional driveway into and out of that lot from Becker Road.
District officials will hold a community informational meeting on the proposed improvements on Monday, March 20 at 6 p.m. in the Marshfield High School library, with an optional building tour to follow. The district also has information related to the referendum on its website at www.marshfieldschools.org/referendum.