SCHOOL DISTRICT 833 - If anyone deserved to write his name in the wet cement at the brand-new Oltman Middle School, it's Mike Vogel.
Vogel, who will retire Oct. 31, arguably did more than anyone to help grow and reshape the district's footprint during a quarter century of change. He negotiated purchase of the land and oversaw the construction of both East Ridge High School and the new Oltman Middle School.
The South Washington School Board bid farewell to Vogel at its Oct. 17 meeting.
"We can't fill his shoes," District 833 Superintendent Keith Jacobus said. "In fact I didn't even try. We have some great folks that will pick up pieces but to have a Mike Vogel is a once-in-a-career chance in a school district."
Vogel spearheaded the district's 2014 long-range facility plan, which called for the construction of a new Oltman Middle School, the conversion of the old Oltman into Nuevas Fronteras Spanish Immersion elementary school, and upgrades to the three other middle schools.
The proposals were developed based in part on community growth and school enrollment projections.
As part of the plan, the district also purchased and renovated Valley Crossing School in order to relieve overcrowding at Liberty Ridge and Middleton elementary schools.
The money to pay for the project came when voters narrowly approved a $96 million bonding package in 2015.
If that was a hard sell, shifting some school boundaries in anticipation of population growth and overcrowding brought a lot of pushback from some district parents who didn't want their child transferred from East Ridge High School to Woodbury or to Park.
Vogel recalled that his first day of work was Dec. 8, 1992.
"'I remember thinking back then, 'What in the heck have I got myself into?'" he told the board. "'How am I going to measure up to all of the different expectations that the job had for me and that I had for myself?'"
When planning the new Oltman Middle School, Vogel helped negotiate the purchase of about 50 acres of land from Bailey Nurseries in the northwest quadrant of the district, where some of the heaviest population growth is expected.
During his 25 years with the district, Vogel also led long-range facilities planning workshops and committees, supervised employee benefit plans, handled property and liability insurance and claims, managed purchasing departments, and supervised transportation as well as facilities and maintenance departments.
"It's been a thrill for me," Vogel said. "I have embraced all of the different challenges that folks have provided me with the opportunity to enjoy. Each one of them allowed me to grow professionally and to serve the district in a way that makes myself proud and makes my family proud. I can't thank folks enough for opportunity you've given me."
This year, as interim director of facilities and construction, Vogel brought the construction of the new Oltman Middle School to completion under budget.
Vogel, who also worked as assistant to the superintendent for operations, was always looking ahead, Jacobus said.
In 2005, for example, Vogel negotiated the purchase of the land for the construction of East Ridge High School. He also led the committee effort to select the architect, put together the $96 million budget recommendation for the bond referendum and collaborated with the architect and principal on the school's design.
"All of the construction thinking about the buildings ... (the) design, comes from Mike pushing our architect and our folks to do what is best for kids, not just for the day the school would open, but for 25 years in the future," Jacobus said.
Vogel also listed some upcoming challenges for the district: expand the new Oltman Middle School in the next five years because of a predicted 600 new housing units in the attendance area, expanding all three high schools in the district to 2,300 student capacity. Additional storage space for school buses is also needed, he said.