Future middle school site

Vacant farmland on County Hwy. MM just beyond the northern Village of Oregon boundary into the City of Fitchburg might someday house a new middle school.

Before agreeing to extend municipal services to a future middle school site, Village of Oregon trustees want to hear from the school district.

They voted unanimously Tuesday, May 19, to invite Oregon School District representatives to discuss the issue at a future board meeting, for which there is no set date yet.

The site is a vacant farm field the district purchased in 2018 directly north of McDonald’s, 1029 N. Main St., along County Hwy. MM. While the land is within the City of Fitchburg, it’s much closer to the existing utility infrastructure of Oregon.

Because of this, the district requested a shared services agreement to provide water and sewer utilities to the site. But trustees raised concerns at their May 4 meeting, inquiring about the cost the village would incur, the legalities of providing service just outside its boundaries and whether village responders would have jurisdiction and even whether the village’s sewer system has the capacity to add a school to its system.

They asked village administrator Mike Gracz to share his concerns with Fitchburg and the school district, and OSD president Steve Zach replied in a letter to Gracz acknowledging those concerns an hour before the Village Board meeting was to start. The district’s board had met the day before.

“We are able to respond to those questions,” he wrote.

Zach pointed out in his letter the “mutual interests the village, city and district have in locating future schools in that location” and said district representatives would like to explain the process by which it acquired the vacant field and the rationale for buying the property.

Gracz told trustees May 19 that OSD superintendent Brian Busler already informed him the project would be cost neutral to the village if it moved forward with an agreement. Gracz said that means the district is acting like a developer – if it is asking for utility services, the district will pay for its legal, engineering and consulting fees.

“The school district is trying to be a good partner,” Gracz said May 19. “They’ve always been a good partner.”

That led to another lengthy discussion.

Trustee Jerry Bollig, who also represents the Oregon area on the Dane County Board, said having a middle school there would still result in a massive influx of traffic. He also said the future middle school site is a complicated issue that will take a lot of time. As the village grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, he said it needs to prioritize its response to that.

“We need our staff not distracted by this development,” Bollig said.

Village president Jeanne Carpenter echoed Bollig’s sentiments, noting that even to build a middle school would first have to go to a community vote through referendum, which won’t happen for months.

“I don’t understand the rush, though I’m all for sitting down with them,” she said.

Trustee Cory Horton, a former public works director for the City of Fitchburg, said the village has a lot to gain from the agreement if it wants to remain viable and grow.

“People talk about (Oregon) schools,” he said. “We need to rely on our school board … that they are operating in the best way they can in keeping up with the high quality of its schools.”

Email Emilie Heidemann at emilie.heidemann@wcinet.com or follow her on Twitter at @HeidemannEmilie.