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(Orfordville, WI) By Gina Duwe, Gazette

“I never thought this day would come.”

Those words echoed through Orfordville on Tuesday morning among Parkview School District staff, students, school board members and residents as they ceremoniously broke ground on the $17 million project to construct a new junior/senior high school at the current elementary school.

After years of failed referendums to upgrade the district's buildings, voters in April approved the construction projects. Laughter and smiles surrounded those posing for photos with shiny shovels hitting the dirt Tuesday.

“There's a new and refreshing sense of excitement and enthusiasm among so many,” Bryan Brauer told the crowd.

“This is historic for our kids and our community, and our progress will forever change the face of Orfordville and all of our included townships,” said Brauer, who co-chaired the committee that helped pass the April referendum.

Brauer, board President Clay Hammes, Superintendent Steve Lutzke and high school senior Brenna Rosser thanked the community and everyone who had a hand in making the project possible.

Voters turned down four of the previous five referendums, but supporters said this project was different because it will centralize the school campus in Orfordville.

In 2012, voters rejected by a 3-1 margin a $5 million construction referendum to consolidate the elementary schools. The same day, voters elected three new board members who ran together on plans to close Newark Elementary and eventually Footville Elementary. Newark closed in June 2012.

Footville will close after the current junior/senior high is converted to the new elementary school.

“It shows we take pride in our little town,” Rosser said of the project. “The changes being made to the schools will facilitate a better learning environment. This has given us the opportunity to make a good district great.”

Voters narrowly approved the project in April, when they also approved spending an additional $350,000 annually for three years for operating expenses. Together, that means an increase of nearly 27.4 percent in the tax rate--from $10.46 per $1,000 of equalized valuation last year to an estimated $13.33 per $1,000. That means the owner of a $100,000 home would pay about $287 more in taxes.

Parkview juniors Caleb Johnson, Hanna Kears and Brauer's son Carson attended the groundbreaking ceremony as members of the first class that will move across the parking lot to graduate from the new school.

Being that first graduating class is what Johnson said he's looking forward to. Triple-sport athlete Kears said she's excited for the new athletic facilities, including a three-station gym.

A handful of sixth-graders posed with shovels as members of the first class that will start and finish in the new school.

Somerville of Green Bay is the architectural company on the project. J.P. Cullen & Sons is the general contractor.

Later this week, crews will start removing trees and pavement, said Joe Schwengels, the Cullen project superintendent who will manage the day-to-day operations of the construction.

Classes will carry on as normal this school year. Foundation work begins next month, and exterior walls and roof will be added into January, he said. Spring will see the interior finished, and site work will wrap up in summer to prepare for the August move. Classes will begin in the new school in fall 2015.

Remodeling the junior/senior high into an elementary school will start in summer 2015 and continue into the first semester of the 2015-16 school year, Schwengels said. The tentative plan calls for keeping Footville Elementary open next year, with part of the new elementary building ready for the start of school. That plan won't be finalized until the high school project is completely designed, he said.

The project is special for Schwengels, who posed for a photo with his son Luke, a sixth-grader. The family lives near Footville, and Schwengels has two other sons in the district, one in third grade and one in 11th.

“The thing with construction that I get the most enjoyment out of is seeing the building done and completed. With this one, it will be cool because I'll actually be using it,” he said.

Hammes ended his speech with a simple, “yet extremely important phrase,” and one he hopes to hear more often:

“This is Parkview, and we are the Vikings!”

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