Lawsuit could hamper Lakeland School project

(Published Nov. 2, 2006, 12:38 p.m.)

By Mike Heine/The Week

A lawsuit filed by an advocacy group for people with disabilities may hinder Walworth County's ability to borrow the money to pay for a new $22 million replacement for Lakeland School.

"It's not the banks. It's our bond counsel saying, 'I don't know if you can say with unqualified certainty of moving ahead with a project since you have a pending lawsuit that says we're stopping you from building the school," Finance Director Nicole Andersen said.

Following a closed session meeting Wednesday afternoon, the finance and executive committees decided to continue moving forward with construction plans despite the suits demand to halt plans for building a larger Lakeland School.

The board is remaining mum on what it plans to do about borrowing $2.6 million this year earmarked for the project.

"That was part of the strategy that was discussed in closed session," Administrator David Bretl said.
Disability Rights Wisconsin, which filed the suit in July, alleges the county is violating Americans with Disabilities Act standards by proposing to build a new school. The suit says building a school that can hold more children than currently enrolled at Lakeland School--about 270--promotes segregation of disabled persons from mainstream society.

Walworth County was looking to borrow money this year for early phases of the project.
To complete the project--if the county wins the suit--$8.5 million will be borrowed in 2007 and $9.9 million in 2008, Andersen said.

The county could, theoretically, wait to borrow the $2.6 million until 2007. However, that would push annual bond amounts over $10 million and subject the county to other issuance costs and lower credit ratings, Bretl and Andersen said.

Walworth County has asked for the suit's dismissal, alleging Disability Rights lacks merit to bring the suit forward. The advocacy group failed to identify any actual injury by the proposed building of the school, the latest county dismissal motion reads.

In the meantime, architects are continuing moving forward with the planning process. Final plans and bid documents are being drafted for the proposed 105,000-square-foot school.

The timeline calls for a spring groundbreaking and the school to open by the start of the 2008 school year.

Because of prior delays in approving the plans, architects have warned that further delays may postpone the fall 2008 opening.

Continued process for the school hinges largely on a judge's decision on whether or not to hear the suit, or dismiss it outright. No timeline is set for the case. A resolution could take months.

The next "fork-in-the road" is when bid documents are completed and it comes time to sign a construction contract, Bretl said. If a court decision is not made by then, the board will have to decide if it wants to start construction on a school that it might not be allowed to build, or wait and let costs add up for a building it might have no problem constructing.

"At that point the board will have to take a really hard look at it," Bretl said. "Once they sign on the dotted line with a general contractor, then it's committed."

 

 

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