Separate bonds on ballot

Voters in the Spring Lake school district will have a pair of proposals to consider at the polls in May.
Krystle Wagner
Jan 21, 2014

 

The school board on Monday night approved a recommendation for two propositions that would address the district’s vast facility needs. The proposals would not be contingent on the passage of each other.

Since Spring Lake district voters defeated a nearly $60 million bond proposal in November 2013, a 33-member special committee has looked at options to address the school district’s needs, and weighed community feedback from a phone survey and recent input sessions. Spring Lake Public Schools Superintendent Dennis Furton said the proposals would address the “vast majority of needs” in the district — such as class sizes, access to technology and climate control.

Proposal 1: $49 million

Proposal 1 combines facility needs for district buildings, furniture replacements and technology enhancements. The district would also buy 10 new buses during a five-year period.

Holmes and Jeffers elementary schools would receive classroom additions; a multipurpose addition (for a gym, cafeteria, stage and kitchen); and site improvements such as a bus loop, parent drop-off, parking and playgrounds. Parts of the elementary schools would be demolished, but Furton said the work done to the buildings in 2007 would remain intact.

Although the physical sizes of classrooms would grow, Furton said the number of students per class would not increase.

The intermediate/middle school would receive a new secure front entrance, classroom renovations and media center renovation. Its roof, mechanical systems and lighting would be replaced. Furton said the building would feel “close to new.”

The intermediate/middle school would also receive a bus loop and repaved parking lot, and the portable buildings would be removed.

Spring Lake High School would receive minor improvements such as basketball backstops, bleachers, air conditioning, scoreboard and security doors, and improvements to the parking lot.

The bond would also include upgrading the technology infrastructure and telephone system, installing classroom multimedia systems, and replacing computer lab workstations and staff computers.

Furton said the bond would provide one phase of student devices. Then, the district would look at a Bring Your Own Device policy for students.

School board member Keith Frifeldt asked how the district would pay for the additional classrooms and space at the elementary schools. Furton explained that a voter-approved sinking fund would arrive several years down the road to help pay for additional upkeep on the buildings.

“It’s a good way to invest in real time,” he said.

Proposal 2: $4.47 million

A second proposal focused on athletics would keep the district's Grabinski Field in the village. The bond would expand its track to eight lanes, replace home and visitor bleachers and press box, build a team room, and upgrade the ticket booth.

The high school would receive two synthetic-turf fields for soccer and lacrosse. There would be new bleachers, announcer booth, lights, scoreboard, fencing and sidewalks. The existing practice fields would be updated, and there would also be additional event parking and restrooms at the tennis courts.

Moving forward

If voters approve one or both of the proposals, the district could enter the Michigan School Bond Loan Fund, which allows school districts to "smooth out" their debt over time.

In the coming months, the district plans to engage with the community and educate them about the proposals that will appear on the ballot in less than four months.

If voters approve one or both of the proposals, Furton said the design process would be under way by this fall, and projects at the intermediate/middle school and high school could begin as soon as the summer.

Furton said ground for the elementary school construction would begin in 2015, and everything would be finished by 2016.

Alternate proposal

For the past year, Joyce Verplank Hatton looked into an alternative proposal that she requested the committee and school board to consider — a third elementary school. On Monday night, she asked the school board again to consider it.

The village resident said her option would cost a little more than $19.1 million to build a school, with additional square feet for administration, and the cost of purchasing land between North Fruitport Road and 148th Avenue near Kelly Street.

Hatton said the school would accommodate current students and allow the district to expand its early education offerings. The school costs would be paid for through state per-pupil funding.

Hatton said traffic concerns could be addressed by cutting down the number of students at Holmes and Jeffers.

Furton said the committee discussed a third elementary school option, but decided against it because it would take about $300,000 to operate the school annually, without looking into more detailed costs. He said it would be “one financial challenge after another.”

Another resident, Bill Venhuizen, asked the school board to keep some of Hatton’s ideas in mind as they go through the design phase.

“I’d rather see money spent for new teachers rather than bricks and mortar,” he said.

Comments

Orvis

If the class sizes are not growing, why do we need larger classrooms? I get it there are things that must be upgraded like the roof, mechanicals and ceilings. Bus loops, air conditioning, and astro turf are WANTS not needs!

watchingyou

I would like to see a cost comparison between the current upkeep of the grass fields compared to the cost of the Synthetic Turf over the life span of the Synthetic. If it did in fact cost less, I would go for it. Maintaining real turf can be quite costly. Fertilizer, mowing, striping, insect and critter control, etc. But if it is in fact a savings, it should wash out in the budget.

Jason

I will see if I can find a cost comparison for you on this.

Jason

Thank you for your comments. I will try and shed some light/reasoning.

I will have to get back to you in regard to the class sizes. I need to review my notes from our committee meetings to make sure I explain it properly.

From a safety standpoint in regards to traffic, bus loops/parent drop off and pick up areas could be better. If this was just being done for convenience for parents and bus drivers then I would agree it is not necessary. However, it has become increasingly dangerous for the students when they arrive and leave school with the current traffic design so that is why improvements for the traffic situation are being proposed.

The portion of the athletic proposal concerning the turf fields is because the grass fields behind the high school or overused and in poor shape. The grass is becoming thin, divots are becoming more prevelant, and more injuries are occuring. Turf allows any team (soccer, lacrosse, and football) as well as the band to practice on the field. There is minimal maintenance that is required compared to a grass field that needs mowing, watering, lining, and reseeding/soding year after year.

As a community representative on the committee, my intension is not to convince you to vote yes but to do my best to inform you as to the reasons why things are being proposed. No doubt we could debate the items all day long finding both positive and negative view points so obviously there may be situations where we may have to aggree to disagree. No matter what the situation though I will respect other's opinions even if they don't align with my own.

Thanks again for your comments. They are important and valued.

Jason

In regard to bigger classrooms being built.

The amount of students, on average in each classroom, is larger than they have been in years past due to the limits within the school's operational funding.

Another reason is that students no longer sit in their desks all day long. Students are more active in their classrooms, moving around, collaborating with other students via experiments, projects or the use of technology. It is more difficult to incorporate this type of learning in a classroom that was built long ago.

Reading has also become a major focus for the students especially at the elementary level. All teachers now have their own mini-libraries so students can access books more frequently instead of having to wait for their once a week trip to the library.

No doubt there are other factors but those are the bigger ones.

happycamper

like i said, these people are not giving up, they want a new house and want you to pay for it, i say fix what you have, are you putting these kids at risk by holding off on repairs and were did that money go, so many questions

Jason

I believe it is safe to say that the students are not currently at risk. If that were the case then buildings or portions of buildings would be closed. The district has done repairs when needed so certainly the bandaid approach could continue or the bond proposal is another option in being proactive with the buildings instead of being reactive.

Can I ask what money are you referencing when you say, "where did that money go"?

Thank you for your comments.

happycamper

it was a statement made by someone else, just before the bond issue was voted on, some where making stabs at the district, if the buildings and equipment where in such bad shape, why wasn't the issue taken care of when needed, i guess the whole problem many where mis-informed and didn't do much research, too many students per classrooms, pupils sitting in the hallways, roof leaking, conditioning didn't work and needed replacement and so forth, if there is not enough money to take of things, how are they going to take care of new building, guess it was more of a question on my part.

Jason

I know I was somewhat shocked when the first proposal came out for the November vote. I did not realize the buildings were in such bad shape and that there were many things that needed to be done.

It was stated that over the years that the district has not done a good job with updating the facilities. I'm sure past and present administrations/boards had their reasons for doing what they did. Whether we like it or not, I do recognize the fact that the current administration/board is trying figure out what are the best options or proposals.

Certainly going forward the district cannot let this type of a situation occur again. Depending on what happens with the bond proposal in May, a "Master Plan" for the district will need to be updated and provided to the community so we know what to expect for the next 50 years.

I think it is safe to say that the people in this community care about the District and the students who attend. Even though I voted "No" the first time around doesn't mean that I didn't care and I know that can be said for the other "No" voters. I have a 12th grader and an 8th grader currently attending so it is important and even for those of you who don't have a child or grandchild attending it is equally important. My dad taught for 27 years at the high school along with my mother and I understand what the school means to not only to my family but the rest of the community. These are hard decisions and choices that we are being asked to make and I appreciate the interest that you all have shown because that does show you truly care.

BTL2A

What is the millage rate increase if one or both are passed?

Jason

The current millage rate is 6.43 and the rate would change to 7.00. It would be paid off in 29 years.

Say no to new taxes

$49,000,000 seems like a lot of money for a "remodel" job and a few new bus's. Who is coming up with these numbers? There building brand new, really nice 2500 student high schools in the southern states for $25,000,000. Why are costs up here so much higher? That's a fair question that needs to be answered.

Jason

The amount includes four buildings (Holmes, Jeffers, Middle/Intermediate, and High School.) Holmes and Jeffers would see the most improvements with renovations to the existing buildings, demo of the portions that would be removed, along with large additions. The Middle/Intermediate school would also see significant upgrades/remodel work.

It would be difficult on the comment section of the Tribune to list all those costs out so I would encourage you to call the Director of Operations at 616-846-5500 X3708. She has the items costed out and I'm sure she would be glad to share those details with you and answer any other questions you have.

Also, if you could provide the information/link in regards to the southern states you mentioned concerning new schools being built, I would be interested in viewing that and then passing it on to the appropriate people for interpretation.

Thanks again for your comments.

ohreally

First off I'd like to say that I like these proposals. They didn't go in for overkill and turn over the entire district like the initial proposal did. What still concerns me personally is the amount being requested. The committee is still stating 50 million for repairs/additions to 4 buildings?? That seems quite drastic to me personally. I'm assuming that these renovations are going to be quite extensive to warrant this much money.

On a side note, Jason, whether you were appointed by the district or self appointed to keep the Tribune forum up to date, you have done a great job of explaining what is going on and providing further explanation for what the district is envisioning. Unfortunately they have not taken the same course in informing the public (other than their meetings) and could take a page or two out of your book.

I'm not certain you could build a new 2500 student HS for 25,000,000, but I do think for 25,000,000 you could renovate 4 average size buildings. All in all I do like this proposal much more than the first go around. I'm not sure it has my "yes" vote, but it's already miles ahead of round 1.

Jason

Thank you for your comments. I was not appointed. Responding to people's questions/comments was something I felt was important and was missed during the last proposal.

I certainly don't have all the answers but I'm trying to give as much information as I can because this is an important issue no matter where you end up voting.

BBoatman

$49MM is still a lot of money for fixing the existing schools. This is still not going to go over well with the voters. Glad they separated the athletics, but they would have an easier time passing a $25MM project than another swing at a pie in the sky plan. Especially a new vote so close to the last defeat. Voters are still fuming over the last vote. I for one would like a complete breakdown of the costs associated with this bond. $49MM just seems extreme. Good luck!

Jason

You are right, it is a lot of money. I even struggled with do we just look at fixing one or two buildings or do we feel they are all of equal importance.

I have no doubt there will be people who are unhappy and that is ok. I respect people for voicing their concern or opposition.

Again I encourage you to contact the Director of Operations at 616-846-5500 X3708 for the cost breakdown.

Thank you for you comments and thoughts. They are much appreciated.

newspaperlawyer

Are you purchasing new buses for the bands to travel????

Jason

Can you be more specific in your question? I'm not sure if you are saying that the band has had to make their own travel plans in the past not utilizing the school's busses or that the band has been riding in older busses.

newspaperlawyer

purchasing buses specific for the band... Like touring buses not the normal school bus styles.

Jason

Although touring buses would be sweet the buses that have been mentioned will just be the regular ones.

ohreally

I have never seen a school purchase a touring bus for it's band, or any organization for that matter. Many will charter one for a long trip, but not purchase them...unless you're Cranbrook maybe!

I am glad that the district put the bus component into the bond. Our buses are some of it not the oldest buses around. You don't see many schools operating buses from 1993 on daily routes anymore and I'm fairly certain that these aren't even the oldest in the fleet (I think they have 2 from 1991). This portion may be considered an investment to the district and based on Mr. Furton's numbers, the new buses may outlast the buildings!

toosense

Jason - thank you for taking the time to answer each question. Your responses contain logic and reason. Very refreshing!

stripes

Jason, they have mentioned this sinking bond for the future to help keep up maintenance. What if the bond doesn't pass? What is the schools back up plan? Will it put us right back to where we don't have money to maintain our buildings? Because I think knowing we just passed a bond 6 years ago, now if this one passed and then another one in 7 years. That might come to the community a little hard. But I would like to know how they plan to maintain these building that we will be sinking money into in case it doesn't pass.

Jason

The committee did not discuss what we would do if the proposal didn't pass. Our group strictly focused on the posibility of a new bond proposal. Having a plan "B" is something that the administration will certainly need to think about leading up to the May vote. I'm not sure if the current bond committee would be called back to discuss the proposal not passing or if the administration would look at it on their own. If this proposal fails I do not believe you will see another one in the immediate future. Two failures by the community sends the message loud and clear.

The sinking fund idea may or may not be brought up down the road. If it is brought up, I have heard that is may be in the neighborhood of 10 years from now. I will state that in our brief talking about the sinking fund there is nothing written down or planned out at this point. We wanted to bring it up so that the community would understand there are options in helping the facilities stay current so that we can avoid the current situation we are in.

As a tax payer my hope would be if that option is brought up down the road that it would be minimal. Let's be honest, if it is a substantial increase it won't pass especially if the current proposal does. I believe the District understands this. It was stated by some of those on the original bond proposal that it was a "humbling" experience with its defeat.

Transparency will be key as the District moves forward which is another factor that has resonated loud and clear by our community. This has been quite a learning experience for all those involved with the first and second bond proposal.

 

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