District Breaks Ground on New Elementary

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By: 
Kevin Murphy
Top to Bottom: School board members break ground on Pope Farm Elementary; Jessica Taylor will serve as the principal at the new school.

MIDDLETON – Ground was broken last week for this first new elementary school in the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District (MCPASD) in 23 years.

Located adjacent to the 102-acre Pope Farm Conservancy on Old Sauk Rd., the new Pope Farm Elementary is scheduled to open to grades K-4 in September 2020.

The school building will be located near the crest of a glacial moraine putting students in the middle of the natural laboratory while preserving views from the conservancy of the State Capitol and Lake Mendota to the east.

The town of Middleton purchased the Pope family farm in 1999, reserving the right to later sell 40 acres to the school district to help defray the cost of the purchase. Placing a school next to the conservancy enhances both parties, said Mel Pope, family spokesman

“The family was very much behind this because…we’d rather see kids use the conservancy instead of having a housing development here,” Pope said.

The conservancy has had a teaching function from its beginning and has been a popular field trip destination for students. The location is ideal for learning, said Perry Hibner, district spokesman.

“We consider ourselves to be green-thinking district, having won a number of awards along that line, and to be able to go to a conservancy right next door just makes the educational opportunities endless,” he said.

MCPASD is the fastest growing district in Dane County, and the new school is located in the fastest-growing part of the district, said Hibner.

Building Pope Farm Elementary prevents West Middleton Elementary, built for a capacity of less than 500 students, from reaching 700 students in the very near future, said Hibner,

“We needed the space. But it’s not just about one school. All of our schools are at more than 93 percent capacity…some at 97 to 99 percent,” he said.

Building the 110,000-square-feet elementary school allows class size to remain about 21 students to teacher, something most district residents want, Hibner said.

The new school would have capacity for 525 students, which is five sections in each grade (K-4) with an average of 21 students per classroom, the number the district determined is the maximum capacity for an elementary school. Of the district’s six elementary schools, four – Elm Lawn (497), Northside (466), Sunset Ridge (485) and West Middleton (443) – have capacity for more than 400 students, according to the district.           

The school district will announce new elementary attendance boundaries this fall to give parents several months to adjust to any changes, Hibner said.

The new school will be designed to accommodate the latest in collaborative teaching practices as well as student safety, he said.

The second floor will have learning areas for kindergarten through second grade, with a library/media center, while grades three and four, a gymnasium, commons and offices will be on the ground level.

The school district held two unsuccessful referendums for slightly larger elementary schools before voters last year approved a new elementary, said School District Superintendent George Mavroulis who thanked the dozens in attendance for supporting the district.

School Board President Bob Green said the district was indebted to past and present school board members for helping to win voter approval for the new elementary. The 20-plus members of Facilities Planning Committee did the lion’s share of the ground work needed to gain voter acceptable of the $33.86 million referendum question, which passed with a 70 percent approval rate.

“They’re the reason we’re standing here now,” Green said.

Jessica Taylor said she was “beyond ecstatic” to be the school’s first principal and can’t wait to get staff hired and the building ready for students next fall.

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