A new school, a new library, a new splash pad, a new park and a new link of the bike trail.
These are some of the ambitious projects the Oregon community will be working on this year as it continues to accommodate the growth it has been experiencing.
The school, on the growing east side of Fitchburg, is opening in the fall and is bringing with it changes in how parents choose their children’s elementary schools and in voting for school board members. It’s even bringing a change in the school district’s administration, as the completion of the project allowed superintendent Brian Busler to head into retirement having accomplished a major task.
The library is a bit farther off, likely to start construction in 2021 and open in 2022, but by June, fundraising will be over and its budget will be set. Library architects, under direction from the capital campaign committee, prepared three options for the building depending on the results of the campaign.
Fundraising is a big theme this year, with two other major projects hoping to follow the stunning fundraising success of the water tower and pump, the food pantry and the youth center. This year, the Jaycee Park West renovation and the splash pad project are looking to hit their goals so they can be ready for people in 2021.
A different kind of fundraising is in the works for the bike trail, which opened in 2015 but has been unusable for much of its four year lifespan. The Village of Oregon has secured a county grant but is holding off while it works on big-picture flooding problems and looks for more funding reroute the $889,000 trail.
Other projects in the works in Oregon include intersection upgrades to South Perry Parkway, where some people have experienced safety issues, and the Highlands of Netherwood subdivision.
1. Building new school; planning for next referendum
It will be a busy year around the Oregon School District in 2020, with a new elementary school scheduled for completion in time for students to arrive for the first day of classes Sept. 1.
After nearly two years of research, the district in 2018 identified the fast-growing northern section of the district in the City of Fitchburg as the most effective location for new schools. It determined the student population was expected to soar from around 4,000 to more than 6,000 by 2030.
A K-6 elementary near the Lacy Road interchange was seen as the most pressing need, with a new middle school planned just north of the Village of Oregon to address the expected increase of students in that age group.
Site work started at the recently named Forest Edge Elementary School last spring, in the Terravessa Development, with a groundbreaking held June 6. Throughout this year, work will continue on the 130,000 square foot building, which is expected to be finished in August for teachers to begin moving in.
The school will feature several playgrounds, three inner courtyards and a butterfly garden and will be the first “net zero” school in the state, with geothermal heating and cooling and solar panels on the roof taking in more energy than expended.
This spring, the district will select students and teachers to go to the school, which will be led by longtime Brooklyn Elementary School principal Kerri Modjeski.
And even while opening one school, the district will likely be planning for the next – a middle school on the border of Fitchburg and the Village of Oregon.
This year, the district is expected to do preliminary planning on a new referendum. It already has spent $926,080 for around 107 acres south of the U.S. Hwy. 14/County Hwy. MM interchange. It won’t be long before the wave of students expected to hit the elementary schools will reach seventh grade, and last year, district officials expected another referendum may be needed as soon as 2022 to fund the building.
2. Library capital campaign to continue
While the actual building won’t be finished until 2022, finding money for the new library site and finalizing plans is a priority in 2020 for the village and the community.
Fundraising efforts for the $10 million project are being taken public earlier than anticipated, in February, Trustee Randy Glysch announced during a Oregon Village Board meeting in December. He said donors had been inquiring about it.
The village has already squared away $6 million for the building, to be located on North Main Street, but the remaining $4 million or more – there are three different designs for different funding levels – is to come from the community.
Library director Jennifer Endres Way told the Observer in August 2019 the building will be more than a space for knowledge and quiet reading – it also will be a place for the public to gather and even for moms to spend quality time with their newborns.
At that point, the fundraising had kicked off with a $500,000 gift from an anonymous donor. It was the same donor also gave $800,000 to build a new Oregon Youth Center this year.
While the building designs are well on their way to being prepared, project organizers are still working on two major components of the new library – the location of the pedestrian crosswalks across Main Street and how the project will be managed. That, along with other aspects of the design, is likely to be set in the next joint meeting of the village and library boards in June.
The design of the two-story building is full of windows with a first floor centered on an all-purpose, 150-seat community room and children’s space and a second floor with more quiet areas, with adult and young adult sections.
The initial plan is 33,000 square feet. Though if the $4 million fundraising goal isn’t reached, one of the options to save money might be shortening one end of the building. And the building also could accommodate a 5,500 square foot addition to accommodate future growth.
Some key features include an area for children’s programming, a sensory room, an area for new mothers, a drive-thru book drop, a second-floor makerspace and several quiet, study and conference rooms.
The plans include three options within the same floor plan – one for a lower investment, one for a medium investment and one for a higher investment.
Amenities in the $12.1 million higher-end version include a labor-saving automatic book drop return, additional computer equipment, more expensive furnishings and additional audio/visual equipment.
3. Focus on flooding solutions
Flooding and increased precipitation are an ongoing problem, so problems like this year’s No. 3 story are likely to be commonplace in our stories of the year lists.
As WKOW meteorologist and Oregon resident Bob Lindmeier put it at a public forum in November, climate change is a global affair that requires a worldly solution. But in the meantime, the Oregon community will be working on local solutions to handle flooding issues all over the village and area towns. Those issues include the destruction of the 4-year-old Rotary Bike Trail, persistent closures of Netherwood Road and more and more homes in the middle of the village being affected by stormwater.
Most of Oregon sits on low land, and it’s becoming more of a nuisance for the people who live, work and come here to visit.
It starts with dealing in facts, as public works director Jeff Rau said. If the public understands what is going on, they are likely to involve themselves in those long term fixes.
The Rotary Bike Trail was a big focus for the village in 2019, and it secured grants and budgeted money to fix it, but it hasn’t been enough yet. As a result, the village is working on other, more immediate projects while it looks for additional funding and possible more land.
Expenditures for the project have so far exceeded its revenue, even including a $173,000 grant from the county, Rau pointed out in December.
Rau pointed out both in interviews with the Observer and during the public forum that he hears complaints from people almost daily about how water affects their daily lives.
4. Splash Pad could start
It has been five years since the Splash Pad project was introduced to the community.
But in 2020, project co-leaders Deb Bossingham and Margaret Straub are doing all they can to construct it, as parents and kids “want it yesterday.”
If everything goes according to plan, Bossingham told the Observer in November, she might have a major announcement this year regarding changes to the pad’s design that would speed up the building process.
Bossingham said the project is still accepting donations for the project, which costs around $800,000.
Construction of the splash pad should begin by mid-2020, Bossingham told the Observer in December. In theory, that could mean an opening before the summer season is over.
If it doesn’t start within the next six months, however, the project could lose some of its donations and grants that are time-sensitive. It won’t take on loans or use taxes, she said, saying the pad will be available for public use.
The planning is done, and the Oregon School District already has constructed the pump house that would power the pad’s water features at the downtown site next to Oregon Community Pool.
5. Bergstrom set to succeed Busler at OSD
In July, the Oregon School District will have a new leader for the first time since 2006, as Leslie Bergstrom succeeds retiring superintendent Brian Busler.
In November, at Busler’s recommendation, the school board selected the deputy superintendent, a longtime district educator, to take over the district’s top job.
Bergstrom started her career in education as a teacher at Madison East High School before joining the Oregon School District in 2003. Since then, she’s served in a variety of teaching and administrative roles, including Oregon High School associate principal, Rome Corners Intermediate School principal and district director of learning and student achievement.
Bergstrom was promoted to the newly created position of deputy superintendent in April, with responsibilities for leading the district’s task forces on growth/student population and attendance boundaries.
Announcing her hiring in November, board president Steve Zach said members had been working with Busler for the past several months on a succession plan before coming to a consensus on promoting Bergstrom. Board member Krista Flanagan said Bergstrom “possessed the educational background, the skills and acumen we desired, and a steep knowledge of our value system.”
“(She is) already a highly respected member of our district community, had been successful in leading a lot of our most strategic long term initiatives and she was being sought after by other districts,” Flanagan said.
6. Jaycee Park West aims for first phase
Supporters of the Jaycee Park West renovation project will continue to amass funds in 2020.
Fundraising efforts for the $3.7 million project kicked off in September 2019.
The plan, presented by planning firm Rettler Corp. in 2018, showed four ball fields, eight soccer fields, two new parking lots, walking paths, three new pedestrian bridges and a concessions plaza on 25.3 acres.
The first phase, which is not likely to be constructed this year, involves grading and preparing the site with utilities and parking, which is costing $1.5 million.
The community must raise $500,000 in total for the renovation, trustee Randy Glysch told the Observer in September.