I am again using this week's column to answer questions I've heard asked repeatedly about the April 5 referendum for school facilities.

Q. What are the actual fire safety and construction issues in the River Falls Academy building?

A. John Andersen, District 2 fire prevention coordinator for the Wisconsin Department of Commerce, inspected the Academy building and reviewed documents from the River Falls Fire Department early in 2009 and on April 2, 2009, wrote a letter to Mike Moody, River Falls assistant fire chief and inspector and copied me as superintendent of the district. Some of the areas Andersen identified were:

"All electrical services, panels, extension cords, outlets, fixtures, and associated electrical equipment must meet code. Wiring must meet the demands of current usage and an electrician or electrical engineer should be hired to evaluate the electrical system."

"The fire alarm system should be evaluated to see if component parts are available should a component fail and if the existing system is up to date to reach all areas of the school site."

"If the roof leaks, there probably is structural damage to the framing members and/or existing support members. If the roof was patched only in leaking areas as a quick fix, there may be damage beyond the leaking areas."

"Mold may be present in the walls or under floors. This is common in old areas of locker rooms and shower areas and along leaking roof locations."

"Voids and spaces under hallway floors, electrical wire runs, and lack of proper fire stopping and caulking can lead to unrecognized spread of fire, leading to life safety concerns for firefighters entering the building. This is especially true in the 1926 part of the building where such construction was common."

"HVAC and room air exchange may have been accomplished with full run shafts that terminated in the attic. At the time there were no fire dampers installed. Again, this makes fighting a fire in such buildings dangerous."

"Sprinkler requirements for schools were very sparse in the 50-64 building code. Alternatives were allowed, and this should be investigated for all three wings of the complex."

"If asbestos is present, it should be tested and isolated and removed."

The three-page letter concluded with a reference to rules promulgated by the Department of Industry, Labor and Human Relations in 1987-89, known as the "Aging School Program." Recommendations to the school board concerning hiring an electrical engineer, structural engineer, architect, and fire alarm company were heeded and the district brought engineers and architects from the firm of ATS&R to investigate and make recommendations on the future of the Academy. Their recommendations have been considered in the board's referendum proposal to take down the 1926 and 1949 sections of the building and retain the 1991 addition.

Q. What is the Renaissance Program, and how many people will be using the Academy building if the referendum passes?

A. The main program that will be housed in the remodeled Academy building would be the Renaissance Academy. Renaissance Academy is an alternative charter public high school that works with at-risk students from the River Falls School District and surrounding districts that pay tuition or open enroll. At-risk students can be defined as students who are not successful in the traditional high school for a variety of reasons and are at risk of not graduating.

The Renaissance Academy focuses on vocational education and preparing youth for the world of work whether through post secondary education or gainful employment after high school. The Renaissance Academy offers a regular high school diploma that requires 30 credits for students in grades 9-12, along with a regular high school basic skills diploma that requires competency demonstration for the adult learners.

It also offers a credit recovery program during the year for seniors from River Falls High School, a GED option for graduation for qualifying students, a summer program.

There is a day program and a Knight School. This year, there are 45 students in the day program and 12 enrolled in the Knight program.

In addition to the Renaissance program, about 850 students and adults use the gymnasium every week.

Community Education will also utilize the remodeled Academy for classes and events, plus space can be reserved by various groups through our facilities scheduler.