More than 100 people attended the groundbreaking ceremony at the Wausa Public School on Sunday afternoon.
The event began with a welcome by Mike Kumm, president of the Wausa School Board in the high school gym, followed by a few words from Supt. Brad Hoesing and Senator Tim Gragert.
School officials and members of the Boyd Jones construction staff broke ground for the school addition behind the fitness center in front of a large crowd of district patrons. The ceremony concluded with cake and ice cream in the gym and tours of the construction site.
“I thought it was a real good turnout,” Sen. Tim Gragert said. “The support shows how important education is to this community. They get a chance to show the kids, ‘Hey, we’re going to give you the best possible facility that we can.’ That’s really what it’s all about.”
Supt. Brad Hoesing said the community support has been an important part of the process.
“I think that the community is stepping forward and addressing needs that they need to address,” Hoesing said. “To their credit, they have taken a big leap forward with this project.”
Last September, Wausa school district patrons passed a $3 million bond to complete all of the school building projects. The first phase was made possible by an endowment to the Wausa Community Foundation from Eunice and Lillian Anderson of Wausa. In turn, the foundation donated $500,000 to the school renovation project to be named the Eunice and Lillian Anderson Industrial Technology and Agricultural Complex.
The 1913 school building was demolished in June. The remaining facility is being renovated for new classrooms as well as the IT/Ag complex and is expected to be operational this fall, while construction of the new building is just getting started this summer. Construction officials said the new building is scheduled to open in August of 2020. The new construction, which will be located where the demolished building stood, will include a commons area, a new media center/library, administrative offices and additional classrooms.
“It wasn’t just about a new building,” said Michael Kumm, school board president. “It’s about how you set up your community for success. The facility is one component of it, but it’s not the main thing.”
Kumm said he is also working on ways to retain graduates in the community.
“If we can get 25 percent of our graduating classes to come back here, you would change everything,” he said. “Right now, we have a 90 percent leaving rate. Well, if Omaha did that, Omaha would be losing their mind because they wouldn’t function as a city. They wouldn’t tolerate it. So why do we allow it in rural Nebraska?”
Kumm and Hoesing said a strong ITE program is one way they are addressing the issue. Bob Evans has built successful programs in Yankton and has been hired to run Wausa’s program next year.
“Throughout next year he’s going to run meetings with local businesses and tell them we are going to tailor our curriculum to match your needs,” Hoesing said. We’re going to ask, ‘What do you need? You pay taxes here, so you need to be a part of this process.’ Our goal is to create our curriculum around the needs of our community.”
The superintendent said he is pleased with the vision the school board has for the future.
“This is not a knee-jerk reaction board,” Hoesing said. “They are very critical thinkers. They think long-term and have bought into a long-term planning process here.”
Kumm said Wausa’s enrollment figures have actually grown in the last 10-15 years.
“We are probably a pretty unusual outlier in terms of growth, but I don’t think that’s accidental,” he said.
Kumm said he thinks many graduates want to return to Wausa and feels it’s up to the school and community to provide them with opportunities to make that happen.
“To me, it’s the model for success,” he said. “I’m excited for the future. I wasn’t ready to give up. I wasn’t ready to die yet.”