MARINETTE — An advisory committee of the Marinette School Board has agreed that a three-building configuration would be the most efficient for the school district.

Superintendent Wendy Dzurick reveals the committee’s findings Tuesday at the School Board meeting. She said the committee met three times in June to discuss what the district should do with its buildings moving forward, and after nine total hours of “intense discussion” it decided on the three-building plan.

“At each meeting, the group was given facts about alternate ways we could address our problems including closing one, two or three buildings,” Dzurick said, “Ultimately, I asked them to rank each option according to a set of six criteria. Once we did that, the three-building option emerged as a clear leader.”

While no action was taken on this decision, Melanie Parma of Somerville Architects, said the committee, which was made up of a mixture of parents, staff, community members, three board members, and representatives of higher education, government and business, suggested housing grades 8-12 at Marinette High School, grades 4-7 at Marinette Middle School which would then become an intermediate school, and early childhood through third grade at Park Elementary, with a substantial addition made to the school.

This would mean exploring the possibility of closing Sunrise Early Learning Center, Merryman Elementary School and Garfield Elementary School.

In a press release given out today, Dzurick said, “As a school district, we have opened and closed schools before. Nobody likes that — it’s hard on all of us. We want to avoid the short-term band-aid approach and look down the road so that we can be effective for the long-term.”

“Marinette students and families deserve a quality educational system,” she said, “To do that we need to be cost effective with all our resources. Currently, we operate six schools, some with empty classrooms. This is just not financially sustainable. We need to look to the future and be proactive so we don’t face a crisis later on.”

At this point in the process, Dzurick said that the board will not be moving forward with any action on closing the three schools, but instead would be moving into another period of collecting more public input. “This is what the committee asked to be explored further,” Parma said.

Parma gave the board the reasons why the committee had suggested the closure of Garfield, Merryman and Sunrise. “Garfield is the oldest building that the district is running,” she said. “It is land-locked in that residential area, and we’ve got some busy, high-traffic streets there and it’s a small site. So from a parking and a playground and just a safe, efficient layout perspective, we’re really minimal at Garfield.”

“Sunrise is a very unique building; it has water issues in some sections because there’s a high water table, adjacent wetlands that has been delineating; it’s a very difficult site to build on for future expansions,” she said.

In regards to Merryman, size really was the biggest issue. Parma said the building is a smaller building with a lesser capacity than Park, and has some of the same issues as Garfield in regards to parking and other safety concerns.

Some of the driving factors behind this study as a whole, as well as the decision the committee reached, include declining enrollment statewide, increases in operational costs and buildings operating under capacity. Dzurick said the most recent graduating class had a population of roughly 170 students, and the newest kindergarten class is around 130, and this trend is steadily continuing all over Wisconsin. She said five of the six buildings currently have empty, unused classrooms, which would not be the case with only three buildings.

Currently, the district is staffed proportionally to the current amount of students, so Dzurick said no staff cuts would be necessary. “The kids would all be relocated, and the teachers would go with them,” she said. She said consolidating the early childhood through third grade maintains optimal class sizes for early grades, and creates one elementary building for all primary-grade students.

Dzurick said she wanted to be very clear that no final decision has been reached yet. No action was taken at Tuesday’s meeting, and the next action the board will take is to move into another period of staff and community input. She said a final decision wouldn’t be reached until December.

“Whatever we do, it is non-negotiable that we provide students with learning environments that are safe, and that help students be ready to enter college, the military or be career-ready,” she said, “None of this can take effect until 2021 at the earliest, but by planning ahead and listening to the community and staff, we will have a smoother transition and hopefully a solution that makes the Marinette School District a great place for all the community’s students.”