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Muskego — School officials are dismayed at an engineering report concluding that hooking the planned new middle school up to city water will be far more complicated and expensive than previously estimated. The revelation prompted a school official to question why planners weren't aware of the higher utility cost that could soar to $1.3 million, nearly three times more than an earlier estimate.

While school engineering consultants had put the ballpark figure at $400,000 to $500,000, the new more detailed engineering study appeared to peg the cost at a $1.3 million. There was confusion over what the report included in its estimate, however. The cost could be as low as $800,000, in which case the angst that drove Muskego-Norway school officials to Monday's Muskego Public Works Committee meeting was for nothing. The schools could go along with that cost.

The city was to contact the engineering firm to confirm which estimate is the right one — $800 or $1.3 million. (The confirmation will not come until after the Now deadline, so watch for a followup online at muskego-newberlinnow.com).

However, school officials were fairly sure  Monday that the news would be bad, feeling that the engineering report was pretty straightforward.

Well affordable

In that case, they want to be allowed to sink a well to provide water for the new school. That would cost about what they had planned to spend to hook up to city water. A well had been the schools' backup plan all along, said Muskego-Norway School Board President Rick Petfalski.

However, city officials weren't ready to go along with that. They said it's city policy for everyone to hook up to city water, if it is nearby.

"It's a mile away," Petfalski protested.

If the report does put the cost at $1.3 million, school officials will be back to the committee, to talk more about a well or about a better financial arrangement, Petfalski said after the meeting.

School approved

In April, Muskego-Norway School District voters approved a $43.2 million school referendum, most of which, $31.3 million, was to build a new middle school. The site for it is on school-owned land in the southeastern corner of Muskego, on North Cape Road south of the Muskego Recreation Trail.

The schools will go out for bids on the project next month, with construction to start in spring. The school should be ready by fall 2018. Petfalski said he hopes what is shaping up to be a water fight with the city doesn't hold up the project. As it stands now, the schools will ask for bids for both drilling a well and for hooking up to city water, he said after the meeting.

A well would take care of all needs, including fire sprinkler operation, school officials said.

Well not favored

But a well wasn't recommended by Michael Paulos, director of public works. He sited maintenance costs, ongoing upkeep and testing requirements.

"We have several other wells, and they're working just fine," responded Jeremiah Johnson, director of operations for the schools. That includes the well at Lake Denoon Middle School that provides fire sprinkler protection in addition to everyday water demands, he said. Some other schools on wells don't have sprinkler protection.

Alderwoman Eileen Madden worried that a school well might lose fire sprinkler protection in a power failure.

Even with city water, sprinklers would go out without power, said Ryan Sands, project architect for Bray Architects. The school would have reservoirs with enough water to supply 90 minutes of water demands, he said.

"We're the experts on safe and secure buildings for kids," Petfalski said. "We could easily be put on a well."

Hookup costly

If the alternative to a well is a $1.3 million tab, Johnson said, "That's not something we could bear."

And the schools shouldn't have to bear the whole cost, because the community would benefit from the school hooking up to city water, Petfalski said.

Some nearby residents hope the school water main goes through because they want to hook up to it, Alderman Neil Borgman said. If their wells are going bad, the city would have to provide water to them, anyway, he noted.

"So it is an added benefit for the utility," Petfalski said.

Another facet to the problem is that the schools operate under state spending limits, Petfalski said before the meeting. For every dollar it overspends, state aid will go down as much as 35 cents, he said. That means taxpayers could pay 35 percent more for the project than the actual cost, he said.

Poor timing

Committee chairman Alderman Kevin Kubacki bridled at what he called the lateness of the water request. These water questions should have been worked out before the April referendum, he said.

"We're in a dilemma now," Kubacki said.

The current problem arose from detailed engineering studies that are not done before a referendum is passed because they are expensive, Petfalski said.

"That's not how any school district does a referendum," he said. Spending money on engineering to put such a system in would be irresponsible, he said.

Besides, school officials felt that a well would be an acceptable and affordable backup plan, he said.

"We assumed a well wouldn't be an issue," Petfalski said.

Part of the reason for the last minute feeling is that the issue was delayed a month, Petfalski said after the meeting. School officials had hoped to be on the committee's December agenda. There was a month of inaction, he said.

Paulos said in an email response after the meeting that there was  no inaction.

At a Dec. 12 kickoff meeting with representatives of the school district, their architect, the engineering firm performing the water study, and city staff, the city asked the school representatives for information on how much water in terms of flows that they would need. Then water engineering calculations could be made, he said.

The flow information arrived at city hall Jan. 4, he said.

"The month of 'inactivity' was due to the school district not supplying the required information in a timely fashion to perform the required engineering calculations by the consulting engineering firm," Paulos said. "Therefore, there was nothing to place on the agenda  for the December Board of Public Works meeting."

However, the inaction happened before that Dec. 12 meeting, Petfalski responded.

The school board requested and paid for a water study right after the committee's November meeting, he said. Two or three days before the committee's scheduled December meeting came the request for more information, Petfalski said.

"They hadn't even started" on the study, he said. "They absolutely delayed."

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