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City denies permit for SPASH Life Skills Center


STEVENS POINT, WI (WSAU) - Stevens Point school officials will have to re-evaluate their proposed Life Skills Center building project. This after the City Council voted Monday to deny a conditional use permit to build the center at 341 & 349 North 2nd Street, across the parking lot from Stevens Point Area Senior High School.

School Superintendent Dr. Attila Weninger strongly supported the planned site for the building, and he’s disappointed with the City Council’s decision. “At this point, we don’t have any other options that are viable, given the learning objectives that we have. The placement of the facility that we originally intended satisfied those learning objectives, so at this point, we need to sit down and decide what our next steps are.”

Several citizens and school officials spoke during a public hearing supporting the Life Skills Center concept, including the representatives of the two taverns within close proximity of the preferred site. The actual placement of the building, and maintaining student safety between SPASH and the Center were concerns of many. Council President Randal Stroik also argued the Life Skills Center should be closer to the high school building so that there would be more inclusion for special education and wheelchair bound students with the other SPASH students.

Mayor Andrew Halverson says the council’s role was only to decide on the conditional use for the property, and that it’s up to the school board if it should be built and how. Halverson supported the planned building site, and was disappointed in the council’s vote, believing the safety issues and questions about the proximity to two existing taverns had been resolved. “We tried to keep order and keep relevance to the agenda item as best we could. I think we certainly did that, but ultimately, the project failed. I don’t agree with it. I think the project rose to an acceptance from our conditional use perspective from a lot of angles. I think you had some opinion that simply entered this equation that said it shouldn’t be there because it shouldn’t be there. I don’t think that’s how we need to make decisions all of the time.”

The preferred building site is is only 159 feet from a tavern. Brian Gollon from Cedar Haus Inn and Deb Zinda from The Little White Inn both expressed concerns about what would happen in the future if they tried to sell their business, expand the business, or rebuild the business after a loss like a fire. City Attorney Louis Molepske Sr. told the council that the pre-existing taverns would not be negatively affected by the educational facility.

Wendinger says he’ll report to the school board the outcome of the council meeting, and they will have to come up with some options, possibly closer to the SPASH building or on another site altogether. He says, “One never gives up when you have a dream and there are a lot of kids and parents that have a dream and a hope for this facility, so we’ll step back and take a look at it, and we’ll move forward somehow.”

The Life Skills Program has served special needs students for the last 11 years, assisting 334 students so far.  There are also nearly 70 regular education SPASH students working with the program as mentors and assistants, and the program can be expanded to include more students from the Alternative School and Pacelli.  The program has been recognized as a model program by the State of Wisconsin, and has been using rented space in an apartment building across North Point Drive from the high school. School officials wish to improve and expand the program and improve wheelchair access by building the new center.