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It’s Like A College Campus – High School Keeps its Wow Factor

inside of the newly renovated fieldhouse

Recently, a family stopped by the South Milwaukee High School to register for classes. As the student stepped into the hall and looked down Heritage Hall, his eyes lit up. “My old schools’ got nothing like this,” he said. 

Bill King, the district’s manager of buildings and grounds, knows that feeling.

“The high school looks like a college campus,” King said. “The first time you walk through the building you’re blown away. You’re like: ‘Wow, kids get to come here every day.’ This district has a wow factor that is unique to South Milwaukee.”

That feeling is due in large part to architecture, but it’s also due to the care and upkeep that the building gets from King and his staff of 30 full and part-time staff gives to each of the District’s six buildings. Those 30 people are responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of approximately 727,000 square feet. 

While necessary, it’s not trivial. A 2016 report by the 21st Century School Fund and the U.S. Green Building Council cited research showing high-quality facilities help improve student achievement, reduce truancy and suspensions, improve staff satisfaction and retention, and raise property values. 

King’s team of 30? It used to be 50.

“We’ve restructured,” said King. “Our budget hasn’t really changed, but we have more full-time staff and are trying to just work smarter. We’re actually doing more cleaning in each room that way which in turn keeps our rooms cleaner than they’d been in previous years.”

Improvements at the High School

The 2023-24 school year saw some major improvements – some by choice, some not – at the High School. The building, which was built as part of a referendum, was built in 2004. The 20-year bond that financed the construction was paid off early in 2022, but like any investment, it needed its wear-and-tear components replaced. 

In April, construction kicked off on the $3.8 million Field Surface Improvement Project. By July, Spaltholz Field – long plagued by flooding and poor soil conditions was completed, its grass surface replaced by eye-catching black-and-red synthetic turf and underneath a new drainage system. The track around the stadium was replaced in September and finished in early October while the softball and baseball fields also saw drainage work and were substantially completed to be ready for this spring. That investment was paid for by a $1 million grant from the Bucyrus Foundation, $1.4 million from fundraising by the Launching a Legacy Committee, and by grants and investment by the School Board. (SEE FIELD Pg.XX)

The Sullivan Field House gymnasium floor was also replaced over the summer and finished in September. A clogged roof drain sent thousands of gallons of water onto the hardwood floors and elevated track in June 2022. Insurance covered all of the damage – including drying it out so students could finish the year on the old surface –  and restored the floors back better than before. 

Working With Nature

If you drive by the Middle or High School, you’ll notice pockets of prairie grass and wildflowers growing around the buildings. While their summer blooms are amazing, the restored prairie has a purpose that’s important to buildings in a floodplain. 

“It’s doing what it’s supposed to do - stormwater management,” King said. “Our prairie retains and uses water, and the soil filters it before it goes into the groundwater.” 

Controlling Costs

King and his staff keep an eye on the cost of supplies like salt for walkways in the winter and toilet paper and paper towels to keep stock in the bathrooms and make changes when needed. For example, hand dryers were installed in some of the middle and high school bathrooms to keep the floors cleaner and un-flushable paper towels out of the toilets – reducing maintenance costs and increasing cleanliness. 

To keep more than 700,000 square feet warm in the winter and cool in the summer, and to provide lighting to that area is a big expense. One step the District is taking is converting all its lights to LED bulbs. 

Another far more fun step is competing for the Energy Cup. The building team that has the greatest savings on their electricity usage each month compared to the year before gets to have the cup – and the bragging rights.

“Lakeview had it for five months in a row, unfortunately, they turned on their air conditioning this summer, so that might mean losing the Cup until the cooling season is over,” King said. “The staff enjoys the competition and they look forward to the results each month.” 


Related: SMWay Podcast: Ready for the First Day of School

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