WISNER, Neb. — Whatever decision is finally made by members of Wisner-Pilger school board on the future of the district's middle school, it’s likely that many in the district will be upset.
Some hope the Pilger middle school — which was wiped out in the devastating June 16 tornado — will be rebuilt in Pilger. Others would like to see it moved to Wisner permanently.
Monday's school board meeting provided a forum for those differing hopes. It was attended by around 35 of school district patrons, many of whom are Pilger residents.
With a final decision by the board expected at a December or January meeting, several people spoke in favor of rebuilding the school at its original location.
Pilger and Wisner have been united in a consolidated school system since 1970 when the need for replacement of Wisner's high school building and declining enrollment at Pilger brought the two communities together.
Angela Denton spoke as a representative of Pilger. She asked the school board to think outside the box, looking not at the short-term ramifications of rebuilding in Pilger, but at the long-term issues affecting what she called the Wisner-Pilger school district community.
"The eyes of everyone across the nation are on Wisner-Pilger schools right now," Denton said, urging the board to be an instrumental part of Pilger's recovery.
As she did so, she distributed to board members a list of organizations and individuals who have offered to design a new community model for a school, along with other resources.
"It's an exciting time for the district," Denton said. "Will Wisner-Pilger rebuild in Pilger? The question shouldn't even have to be asked."
Kolby Koehlmoos, an employee of Omaha Public Schools, also spoke on behalf of rebuilding in Pilger, explaining that a school is the heart and soul of a community. Without a school, families may not relocate to Pilger, he said, causing churches and businesses to struggle to survive, and the local economy to suffer.
"Education at Wisner-Pilger is the best around," Koehlmoos said, with two hard-working communities at the center of the district. Rebuilding the middle school at Pilger would draw families and businesses back to the area.
David Raabe, a member of the school board’s building and grounds committee, explained that the amount to be collected from insurance on the Pilger building is still uncertain. Federal Emergency Management Agency funds will make up the difference between insurance collected and costs of rebuilding.
Jim Berg of Bahr Vermeer Haecker Architects of Lincoln presented four architectural drawings for rebuilding options. Chad Boyer, Wisner-Pilger school superintendent, and Raabe spoke on the pros and cons of each plan.
The demolition of the Pilger Middle School by the June 16 tornado left Pilger without a school facility for middle grades. In Wisner, there is an elementary school for preschool through fourth grade and, at a separate location, a facility for junior high and high school students.
Following the tornado, temporary classrooms were added to the elementary school grounds at Wisner to accommodate middle grade students.
The first option Berg presented would add a middle school to the existing elementary school site at Wisner, with classrooms ringing a two-story gym. The junior-senior high school would remain as is.
A second option adds a middle school to the junior-senior high school facility, with elementary classes continuing at their current location at Wisner.
Both of those options would leave Pilger with no school facility in the town.
A third option rebuilds a one-story middle school with gym at Pilger in the same footprint as the original school, with the elementary school and junior-senior high school continuing at Wisner. The design would incorporate the school's original façade, which was all that was left standing following its demolition.
The fourth option involves adding on to the junior-senior high school facility to house all Wisner-Pilger students at Wisner.
This option was originally brought to Wisner-Pilger voters in the 2010 election, Berg said. With an estimated price tag at that time of more than $6 million, voters rejected the proposal. But now, with the availability of insurance payments and FEMA funding, the project would not be dependent upon bond issue funding or voter approval.