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Residents at odds over future of 125-year-old schoolhouse

Posted at 7:48 PM, Nov 12, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-12 20:48:48-05

MERTON -- Controversy over a 125-year-old schoolhouse in Waukesha County continues a week after residents voted by the slimmest of margins to tear it down. 

Some residents in the Swallow School District say they’re frustrated the $8.3 million referendum question on their ballots made no mention that a 'yes' vote meant demolishing the historic schoolhouse. The school district says that issue was out of their control.

The one-story brick schoolhouse has been the iconic symbol of Swallow School in the Village of Merton for several generations. It was built in 1894. 

“I think a lot of people in this community grew up here, they attended school here when they were kids and now their kids go here,” said Susan Schoeppel.  

Schoeppel’s two kids had classes in the one-room schoolhouse. In the months leading up to election day, she couldn’t help but notice how it became a point of contention in the district’s referendum. 

“There was a Facebook campaign going around,” she said.  

The multi-million dollar referendum passed with 51.6-percent in favor of tearing it down for new construction. While the ballot question listed the price, and mentioned replacing classrooms, it said nothing about demolishing this 125-year-old building. 

“We cannot control the language that is placed on the ballot that is driven by statute so while it includes a broad range of what the projects are, it is a general description of what the projects include," Superintendent Melissa Thompson explained. 

Thompson said this plan has been in the works for about five years. The school district formed a committee and sent out a survey which found just 13-percent of participants definitely wanted to save the schoolhouse. Another 21-percent said they would probably like to see it restored. 

“Right now, if a child breaks their leg or has a disability or a staff member, we cannot get them up and down the stairs without either carrying them or flipping grade levels of classrooms,” Thompson explained. 

Thompson said renovations would have cost a million dollars more than new construction. Schoeppel doesn’t believe nostalgia is worth those extra tax dollars.  

"I think it will serve more kids and serve them better," she said.  

This referendum doesn’t raise tax dollars for residents because it replaces an old referendum of the same cost.