• Check back over the next few months as we build new Frequently Asked Questions for the Design and Construction phase of referendum projects.

    See below for Frequently Asked Questions prior to the November 6, 2018 vote. Still have a question? Email



    Frequently asked questions are posted below. Questions submitted that are duplicate, or of common theme, have been combined for brevity of the comprehensive document.  



    A: VJS Construction Services is a construction management firm. They are not responsible for the design of buildings or defining the scope of work. They are responsible for establishing costs to solutions developed by the Facilities Advisory Committee and District and adopted by the Wauwatosa Board of Education.   In addition, they provide budgeting throughout the design process to ensure the projects stay on budget and manage the construction administration process including bidding of all subcontracts, scoping of subcontractors, recommendation of award for subcontractors, issuing of contracts for subcontractors, document control including all RFI’s, submittals,  bonding, insurance, constructability, phasing,scheduling, managing district direct purchases, and supervision of the work.

    A: The Construction Manager fee is 1.15% of the construction costs. The construction costs are approximately 80% (or $99.9 million) of the total referendum ($124.9 million).

    A:  VJS Construction Services was selected through a competitive Request For Proposal Process (RFP) process. Five firms were interviewed. Three were narrowed down for the second round of interviews. The process and criteria included cost analysis, reference checks, analysis of prior K-12 projects, the interview process, and assessment of the firm’s workloads and feasibility of successfully being able to manage projects. An independent third-party consultant (owners representative) who has an extensive background in construction management was also part of the RFP process to identify the best-qualified candidate and advocate on behalf of the District.

    Request For Proposal (April 2017)

    School Board Meeting of Contract Approval - see minutes 2:10-3:52  (June 2017)

    Summary of RFP Process/Recommendation to Board

    Press Release: Construction Manager Selected (July 2017)

    JS Story: Wauwatosa School District Selects Construction Manager (July 2017)

    A:  The architect’s primary role is to develop a practical design that provides long-term solutions to the challenges presented by its client, in this case, the Wauwatosa School District (Owner).  It is the responsibility of the architect to assemble, manage and coordinate a multi-disciplined team of engineers and other specialty consultants who will collaborate together to develop the construction documents needed by the Construction Manager for bidding the work to various trades.  The architect and Construction Manager work collaboratively during document development to identify practical, cost-effective building systems that provide long-term durability to the District.

    The architect also serves as one of the three main parts of the overall project team (Owner (Wauwatosa School District) / Architect / Construction Manager) who each serve as a check and balance for the other two.  The architect is part of the review of all construction bids to ensure intent and scope are accurately reflected. During construction, the architect serves as a resource to the construction manager to review field questions, review the detailed shop drawings prepared by individual trades and observe construction progress to ensure conformance with documents.  

    A: The fee for professional design and engineering services is between 5.0% and 6.0% of the total construction costs. The construction costs are approximately 80% (or $99.9 million) of the total referendum ($124.9 million).



    Q: What is on the ballot on November 6?

    A: The proposed facilities referendum includes work at all District schools, with an emphasis on the most significant needs at the elementary school buildings. This will include new construction and renovation of four elementary schools with the greatest identified needs and priority

    projects District-wide including:

    • Safety & Security Upgrades
    • Building Maintenance & HVAC Systems Improvements
    • Classroom/Lab Updates - Technical Education Upgrades
    • ADA Accessibility Updates

    The Total Not-To-Exceed Referendum Cost: $124.9 million.

    Q: Why is the district proposing this plan now?

    • Aging Facilities: District schools are on average, 73.5 years old. Five of the schools have their original boilers. The District has extended many of the operating systems two to three times beyond a typical life expectancy; they are inefficient, costly to repair, and have become unreliable.
    • School Safety: Many of our schools need updates and modifications to effectively monitor and control access within our buildings.
    • ADA Accessibility Limitations: Due to their age, some elementary schools have significant accessibility limitations and do not meet current ADA standards. Four multi-level elementary schools do not have elevators and six have limited access to the building, restrooms, and classrooms.
    • Outdated Learning Spaces: Many classrooms were built 70-100 years ago. To meet the needs of today’s learners, the proposed plan would update some classroom and lab space, provide flexible furniture, and remodel the technical education space at both high schools.

    Q:  Have school days been lost due to the aging mechanical systems?

    A: Yes. Longfellow lost hours out of a school day when a steam leak occurred in the boiler room, causing an evacuation in November 2016. Wilson/WSTEM lost a day of school due to excessive heat as a result of a mechanical failure in January 2017. The heat was so intense it melted a box of crayons in the room. Washington Elementary lost a day of school when we had water damage due to a mechanical failure in March 2017. That incident resulted in a nearly $1 million dollar insurance claim and a year’s worth of work

    Q: What is included in the proposed $124.9 million referendum?

    A: The proposed plan would include four new elementary school buildings at a cost of approximately $93.5 million:

    Lincoln Elementary      

    Built In 1919  

    McKinley Elementary

    Built In 1929

    Wilson Elementary/WSTEM

    Built In 1924

    Underwood Elementary

    Built In 1938

    • Lincoln and Wilson would be a combination of new construction and renovation
      of historic portions of the buildings.
    • McKinley and Underwood would be replaced with new construction.
    • Design would reflect the aesthetic of the neighborhood.
    • All new elementary schools would remain on current school sites.
    • Building design for all new elementary schools would begin following a community-approved referendum.

     district wide upgrades matrix

    Q: Does the district have stick to the project scope as defined in the referendum materials?

    A: Yes, the District may not exceed the proposed $124.9 million and may not use funds for any other purposes other than as defined on the ballot and in all District referendum materials.

    Q: How were Lincoln, McKinley, Underwood and Wilson selected for new construction?
    A: Standards were created for each priority identified by the community for Safety & Security, ADA, Building Maintenance and Classroom Environments. This was used as the criteria for evaluating all schools. These four schools  have greater needs in all four priority areas. All other schools would receive upgrades and repairs totaling $31.4 million.

    Q: Why is McKinley recommended for replacement, but not Roosevelt?
    A:  Commonly referred to as “sister schools,” McKinley and Roosevelt were both built at approximately the same time but do not have the same floor plans. In 1993, Roosevelt received additions of six classrooms and received two ADA accessible bathrooms. In addition, Roosevelt current has an elevator and interior ramps to get form one floor to another. McKinley does not have an elevator, ramp or ADA accessible bathrooms.

    Q:  Why is new construction for four of the schools the solution?

    A:  The four schools proposed for new construction or a combination of new construction and renovation are some of the oldest schools with the most significant needs. Three of them range in age from 90-100 years old. Renovation addresses some of the needs but not all of them. As part of the planning process, life cycle cost analysis was run to determine at what point in the building’s lifecycle remodeling exceeds the cost of building new. This data helped inform decisions, in addition to other comprehensive analysis completed by the Facilities Advisory Committee.

    Q: How do you determine square footage for new schools?
    A: Each of the four new elementary schools will be built for a similar number of students, with the same number of classrooms per grade as the current elementary schools. Current space requirements for students with special needs, required ADA features in new buildings (e.g. elevators, accessible bathrooms, etc.),  and a significant change in programming and learning since Wauwatosa schools were built 50-100 years ago, the architect (PRA) used conceptual guidelines of 900 - 1,200 square feet for classrooms, and a total building square footage of approximately 68,000 for an elementary school.

    Q: How much of an increase in enrollment capacity will there be for each of the schools? 
    A: None. Each of the four new elementary schools will be built with the same number of classrooms per grade as the current elementary school it will replace.


    Q:  Why do classrooms need updates?

    A:  Many classrooms were built 70-100 years ago. To meet the needs of today’s learners, the proposed plan would update classrooms, provide flexible furniture that can adjust to the needs of the teacher and students, and remodel the technical education space at both high schools to better equip students for current and future careers in related trades and industries.

    Q:  Are “open concept” spaces being proposed as part of modern learning environments?

    A:  No. While current educational spaces do feature more open collaborative areas, individual classrooms are still the primary component of school design.

    Q: Will all classrooms in each school be getting new furniture?
    A: No, not all classrooms in every school will receive updated furniture recognizing that some classrooms have received furniture upgrades in recent years and there is a limit to this budgeted item in the proposed referendum. 

    Q: Will tech class upgrades be a remodel or an addition to the buildings?
    A: The technical education space at East and West will be renovated space within the existing building structure/footprint.



    Q:  Do indoor air quality and temperature within a school impact teaching and learning?

    A: Yes, research has shown indoor air quality and temperature can affect concentration levels, a student’s health, and overall attendance. Click HERE for information from the Environmental Protection Agency on the topic.

    Q: Will all schools have improved HVAC systems including air conditioning?
    A: Yes, HVAC systems including air conditioning is important for control of temperature, indoor air quality, and humidity levels year round. It also provides a better teaching and learning environment and preserves buildings, equipment, materials and technology.

    Q: Are the schools used year round?
    A: Yes, in 2017 there were over 1,000 community and recreational requests granted for use of gyms, auditoriums, classrooms and field space by the District, community, recreational clubs and organizations like Boys and Girls Scouts, church groups, Tosa PD crime prevention meetings, Girls on the Run, City of Wauwatosa, neighborhood associations, and many others. Buildings are available year round and serve a critical role during the summer months to serve thousands of students in summer school programming.



    Q:  What are some of the significant accessibility challenges within the buildings?

    A: Currently, four of our multi-level elementary schools do not have elevators, which prevents students and teachers with limited mobility from accessing all classrooms/areas of the building. Six of the elementary schools do not meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards. This means the main entrance of the school requires you to climb a step and/or an immediate set of stairs upon entry. Some schools do not have ramps or lifts.  Stairs/steps also limit access to restrooms. Teachers have had to move an entire class from one floor and/or area to another of their school building so that a student could participate with their class. A student may have to move buildings, all together, if their neighborhood school cannot accommodate the need.

    Q: How will each building’s ADA needs be met through the referendum?
    A: Standards for accessibility were identified as a key priority for the community. Based on standards set for all schools within the District, each building will have upgrades allowing access through the main entrance, access to all levels of the building through lifts or an elevator, and at least one accessible bathroom at each building.



    Q: How are the state School Safety Grant monies being spent? What safety and security projects are proposed as part of the referendum?

    A: State School Safety  Grants. The Wauwatosa School District applied for and received $387,395 in the first round of school safety grants from the state.  The grant dollars have provided approximately $20,000 per school.  The second round of grants received will provide funds for mental health initiatives and staff training with some additional purchases for security cameras and new locks at secondary schools. In all cases, grant monies are limited by a specification for use and do not cover the structural safety and security measures outlined in the proposed referendum.

    The Wauwatosa school safety grants will cover:

    • Shatterproof film for glass throughout the District
    • Replacement of some exterior doors in poor condition
    • Communication tools to help carry out the District’s Standard Response Protocol in the event of an emergency/crisis situation
    • Additional resources for visitor protocol (security cameras, raptor system scanners)
    • Locking mechanisms at middle and high schools
    • Mental health initiatives and training (the required focus of the second round of grants)

    Read more about the state safety grants process here.

    Referendum Safety & Security Projects. The Safety and Security projects within in the referendum total approximately $2.5 million for District-wide projects, in addition to the safety and security measures included in the four new school buildings. The referendum projects are focused on the creation of controlled visitor access after entry is granted into the building. Currently, many elementary schools are built in a way that allows visitors access to classrooms and the entire building once inside, without having to first check-in with the office. The referendum dollars would also fund door barricades in the District (in addition to the locking mechanism). Barricades are recommended by law enforcement as an additional security measure. Lastly, “safety and security” extends beyond “intruder” safety, but also includes making sure sites are safe for students, families and community.



    Q:  If approved, what is the maximum annual tax impact?

    A: Approval of the $124.9 million referendum would increase the school portion of the mill rate by a maximum of $1.88 over the current rate. As a result, property owners would pay $188 more a year per $100,000 of equalized property value for approximately 20 years. The increase would first be noted on the December 2019 tax bill.

    mill rate chart

     The estimated tax impacts provided by Robert W. Baird & Co., assume: phased borrowing approach over a two to three year period (2019-2021) with each borrowing paid back over a 20-year period; interest rates of 4.25-4.75%; and 0% property value growth.


    Q: How does the District's mill rate compare to the state average?

    Wauwatosa School District is currently below the state average and would be one cent above the state average (based on 2017-2018 data) if the referendum is approved.

    mill rate comparisons


    Q: What is the total cost to borrow $124.9M for the defined referendum projects?

    A: A referendum authorizes borrowing of money for specifically identified purposes. In the case of the Nov 6 facilities referendum, the borrowing may not exceed $124.9 million. Similar to a home purchase and mortgage, there is interest charged to borrow money. The estimated tax impacts provided by Robert W. Baird assume: phased borrowings with each paid back over a 20-year period, interest rates of 4.25%-4.75% (equals approximately $69.5 million over the life of the bonds); and 0% property growth. This is a conservative estimate with interest rates 1% above current rates and no assumption for property value growth. Interest costs could be less than currently projected and property growth for 2017 was 2.29%. Final interest will be known once rates are locked.

    Q: Are potential state aid gains or losses reflected in the $1.88 maximum mill rate increase?
    A: Yes. The potential for state aid gain or loss is part of the complex state aid formula and something the District takes into account in its regular operating budget on an annual basis. It is not new to Wauwatosa taxpayers or unique to the referendum.  As such, while developing overall tax impact for the referendum, the District’s financial advisor Robert W. Baird ran multiple scenarios to examine potential extents of state aid loss, including the most conservative. The total maximum tax impact related to the proposed $124.9 million referendum is $1.88 per $1,000 of equalized property valuation and includes the principal cost, interest on the borrow, and all associated fees, as well as potential state aid gains or loss.  School districts are required to use equalized valuation for their calculation of tax rates.

    Q:  Why doesn’t the District use its fund balance to pay for facility improvements?

    A: The District has a long history of sound fiscal stewardship. It is the only District of its size or larger in the state that does not short-term borrow and is debt free. The fund balance is what allows the District to avoid short-term borrowing. Fund Balance for a school district is appropriately measured on January 14th, the day before it receives the first tax payment. The fund balance on June 30th has to carry the District through the next January 15th. Over the last few years the District has had to consume fund balance to pay for necessary emergency repairs and will continue to do so but that is not sustainable for the long-term.

    Q:  What has the District done to maintain its buildings over the years?

    A: Over the past 16 years, the District has spent more than $42 million on maintaining buildings and grounds, including 14 buildings and 1.5 million square feet of space. The District does have a thorough and comprehensive preventive maintenance plan for buildings and their operating systems that is executed on a monthly and annual basis. Because of this diligent preventative maintenance, the District has been able to extend the life of some building operating systems 2-3 times beyond a typical life expectancy. However, District buildings are on average, 73.5 years old. The percentage of the capital maintenance budget spent on emergency repairs has steadily increased, creating disruption and costly repairs - this is not sustainable or fiscally responsible.

    Q:  When was the last time the District went to referendum?

    A: The District last went to referendum in 1993.

    Q: Is it possible that following a comprehensive and collaborative design process, the costs will be much more or much less than $124.9 million?
    A: No, it is not possible to exceed the defined project scope or cost of $124.9 million. At the conclusion of all projects, any monies left over are credited to the District.

    Q: If the referendum does not pass, will the District consider an alternate plan?
    A: If the referendum fails, the District will:

    • Address critical maintenance needs & emergency repairs only
    • Re-engage the community to modify the recommended Plan for a potential, future referendum

    As operating budgets become more restrictive, the District could alter curriculum or eliminate programs; increase class sizes; and/or reduce administrative, teacher, and staff positions.

    Future School Boards and the community could consider options to decommission certain schools through evaluation of enrollment imbalance and/or enrollment makeup.



    Q: What is the timeline for construction if the referendum passes?

    A:  If the community approves the $124.9 million referendum on November 6, design planning for the first two new elementary schools would begin immediately and last through the start of fall 2019. The preliminary timeline has construction on the first school beginning in the summer of 2019. The first two new schools would be completed by 2020. The graph below shows the complete process for the remaining schools and renovation work. (See Preliminary Design and Construction Timeline below).

    Q:  If the referendum is approved by the community, will work be competitively bid out?

    A: Yes. The construction manager and the District will competitively bid subcontractors with the first bid occurring in spring 2019, a second bid in spring 2020, and a third bid in spring 2021.

    design and construction timeline

    Q: When will the community see architectural designs for the new elementary schools?
    A: Only following community approval of a referendum would the District spend funds to develop detailed designs. If approved, the District will engage students, staff and community in a design visioning process. This collaborative work will ensure school design reflects the diversity and culture of our community and is sensitive to Wauwatosa rich history and unique building and neighborhood character.

    Q: What is meant by “conceptual designs” as shown in the newsletter?

    A: The preliminary and conceptual site plans on display boards and in the referendum newsletter are to show that a new school will fit on the existing site and is not meant to suggest actual placement or detail.

    Q: When will detailed site/floor plans be ready for review with cost information for projects at each school?
    A: Following a community-approved referendum the design process begins. Following a collaborative design process, and completion of Schematic and Design Development documents, renderings, site/floor plans and costs for all projects will be shared with the community.  Information and the opportunity to participate in the design process will be communicated following the November 6 election outcome.

    Q:  Will new schools maintain their current location and aesthetic?

    A: Yes.  All new construction would be carefully designed to respect the scale, character, and context of the neighborhoods the schools are located and would be located on the same property that they are currently.

    Q:  Will students need to be relocated to accomplish these projects?

    A:  One of the prime objectives of any project that may result from this process will be to minimize any possible disruption to teaching and learning brought upon by construction activities. Preliminary review of building and site logistics is underway. We can safely say students and programs will remain on current school sites. It is possible that Wilson Elementary would require up to three (3) portable classrooms connect with enclosed structures to the building in order to maintain all students and programs on site.

    Q:  If a building is either replaced or significantly renovated, how long can we expect that facility to last?

    A:  School buildings are designed to last a minimum of 50 years before needed major renovation to extend their useful life.


    Q:  Have you considered consolidating schools?

    A: Walkable neighborhood schools are part of the District’s identity and among the many reasons families choose to move to Wauwatosa. Over the past 14 years, the community has strongly voiced its opposition to consolidating schools. The Wauwatosa School Board has worked to support this community preference. Consolidation would require redistricting, selling of buildings and properties, and the loss of some neighborhood schools. This would not address the immediate needs of buildings. However, the phase one plan of a long-range master facilities plan does create flexibility and adaptability for future board, administration, and community decisions if the community wanted to pursue consolidation down the road.

    Q: Does the plan account for future enrollment or capacity needs?

    A:  Yes. Resident enrollment in the Wauwatosa School District has remained consistent over the past 35 years. The proposed plan addresses the most critical needs of our District's aging schools, addresses community priorities, while creating flexibility and adaptability for future school boards, administration, and community decisions based on the evaluation of enrollment and any potential fluctuations.

    Q: What is the current student enrollment attending Wauwatosa schools? What is the capacity of our current buildings based on optimal/target (?) capacity?

    A: Total enrollment of students attending Wauwatosa schools is 7,364. The resident student enrollment is 5,931 and the students currently attending Wauwatosa public schools through open enrollment is 1,239. There are an additional 152 students enrolled in the Virtual Academy, but do not physically attend a school. There are currently 93 more resident students enrolled than in 1984. The capacities as indicated in the 2016 study are based on current assignments and utilization. The capacity, as schools are currently configured is a target capacity of 7,450.

    Q: Are schools being built because of anticipated growth?
    A: No. The new elementary schools proposed for replacement will be built with the same number of classrooms per grade. The referendum is not about growth; it is focused on repairs and replacements to aging infrastructure, systems that cost more to maintain over time than replace, lack of ADA accessibility, lack of secure controlled entry in buildings, and outdated learning spaces.

    Q:  What neighboring districts have recently passed facility referenda and invested in their buildings?

    A:  Over the past ten years many school districts in the Milwaukee metropolitan area have passed facility referendum questions including Elmbrook, Menomonee Falls, Germantown, Mequon-Thiensville, Whitefish Bay, Franklin, Oak Creek-Franklin, Mukwonago, Greenfield, Greendale, Brown Deer and St. Francis. Currently, our neighbors in  Waukesha and Pewaukee have referendums on the November 2018 ballot. It’s important to note each District’s needs are different.

    Q:  How would this project affect residents that do not have children in the District?

    A: Strong schools and successful students that are prepared for the future workforce benefit the entire community. The District and School Board are committed to being good neighbors keeping the community and neighbors of the schools informed of the process if the referendum is approve

    Q: How have athletic updates over the course of time been funded?
    A:  The District has invested in athletic field updates over the past 15 years as the result of an athletic fields planning report, which was developed through a collaborative effort between the District, City, and community.

    Q: How was the recently upgraded theater at East funded?

    A: Through one-time TIF money.

    Q: Will there be larger cafeterias, common areas at the buildings? 
    A:  Yes, multi-purpose space is used in a variety of ways and is important for educational purposes but also supports the multiple ways that the Wauwatosa community use facilities. In 2017 there were over 1,000 community and recreational requests granted for use of gyms, auditoriums, classrooms and field space by the District, community, recreational clubs and organizations like Boys and Girls Scouts, church groups, Tosa PD crime prevention meetings, Girls on the Run, City of Wauwatosa, neighborhood associations, and many others.

    Q: If future community attitudes, enrollments or economic realities called for consolidation would the schools now chosen for replacement remain, while other schools are subject to closing through consolidation or change of attendance boundaries?
    A: As budgets, enrollment and community attitudes change, the District would respond accordingly.