Oshkosh Could Close Six Schools, Hold Spring Referendum as Part of Long-Range Building Plan

OSHKOSH - An advisory group recommended that Oshkosh close six schools as part of a strategy to consolidate, replace or update aging facilities into larger and more efficient buildings that cost less to operate.

The Facilities Advisory Committee, a group of 25 parents with children in the Oshkosh Area School District, recommended Wednesday the district commit to a long-term consolidation plan that could bring the number of schools from 20 to 14.

Voters could be asked as early as April 2020 to approve a referendum for the first steps in the process which would include safety and security upgrades as well as maintenance updates, such as roof repairs for buildings, according to the summary of the committee recommendations.

The biggest changes could be in store for the district's five middle schools, which might be trimmed to three.

The first phase could also include include building a new middle school that could hold 850 students and build a new elementary school or expand and update an existing one that could hold up to 600. That question is not expected to be a part of the April referendum.

Most immediately, the committee is discussing consolidating two middle schools — Webster Stanley and Merrill. Merrill operates out of a 119-year-old building, so the district has concerns about maintenance, Superintendent Vickie Cartwright said at a joint session between the school board and Oshkosh Common Council in October.

Cartwright said the average age of an Oshkosh school building is 78 years. She said the district wants to create solutions that are adaptable to today's technology.

Under the long-term plan Oshkosh schools would include nine elementary schools, three middle schools and two high schools. Currently, the district has 13 elementary, five middle and two high school buildings.

Larger schools have smaller class sizes, which may seem counter-intuitive at first, Deputy Superintendent David Gundlach said in an interview with the Oshkosh Northwestern in October.

Smith and Jefferson Elementary School are expected to have only one fifth-grade class at each school, but once former Smith students combined with Jefferson, there were three classes for fifth-graders with smaller class sizes, he said.

The committee wrapped up last month after holding six sessions learning about Oshkosh facilities.