Fennville district seeks $23 million to renovate high school, add fields
A $23 million bond proposal is on the ballot before Fennville Public Schools voters.
If passed, it would fund renovations in buildings district wide but focus primarily on the high school and athletic facilities.
“In the 2004 bond, the high school got the least attention,” said superintendent Jim Greydanus. “With it being 42 years old, the school board is looking at some mechanical upgrades to bring it up to current standards.
“The school board has been working on this for a couple years, looking at our facility use and trying to project our needs into the future.”
The bond project will renovate high school classrooms and other parts of the building, buy new computers and the network infrastructure to support them, create secure entries for the high school and elementary schools, create several athletic fields, reorganize the student drop-off area at the elementary school, build a new transportation facility and make some improvements to the Community Athletic Center.
Fennville Board of Education President Dave Johnson said, “If approved by the voters, this bond proposal would touch every student in every part of our school district.
“It would address many of the older mechanical issues in buildings that are more than 40 years old, and it would also provide the newest technology resources for our students. The project would extend the life and improve the operations of our buildings, enabling them to continue serving the community well into the future.”
Greydanus said the school district’s tax base, which has been on the rise, can support increasing the millage the district uses to pay back debt. The Michigan treasury department agreed when it permitted the district to put the proposal on the ballot.
If the proposal passes, the debt millage would be raised to approximately 7 mills in the first year, up from 4.45 mills in 2016. Homeowners in the district with homes of $50,000 in taxable value could expect that estimated 2.55-mill increase to cost another $127.50.
Johnson and school administrators say this would not overburden the district with debt.
Johnson said, “In the time since we issued bonds to build the elementary school, we’ve refinanced our debt on that bond proposal three times, each time saving taxpayers quite a bit of money,” he said. Greydanus noted a January refinancing is expected to save $1 million in interest.
Johnson said, “Even with this proposed increase, Fennville would still maintain one of the lower debt millage rates in the area.”
At 7 mills, the only county schools with lower millages would be Hamilton and Saugatuck; Martin recently upped its debt millage to 7 mills. Most other schools in the area have debt millages slightly above 7 mills; Hopkins’ and Wayland’s are above 8 mills.
All of the planning to this point is preliminary; estimates for spending break down to more than half of the bond money being spent at the high school. It breaks down like this:
High school building: $12.1 million, or 52.6 percent
High school athletic stadium/fields/track: $4.2 million (18.3 percent)
Transportation facility: $2.6 million (11.2 percent)
Middle school: $1.2 million (5.2 percent)
Elementary school: $1.1 million (4.8 percent)
Community Athletic Center: $936,554 (4.1 percent)
A new secure entrance here will not rely on the current cameras; guests will be routed to the office on the recommendation of law enforcement, Greydanus said.
Renovations in the building are wide-ranging, everything from classroom flooring, lighting and cabinetry to an addition for a fitness/weights room.
Greydanus said electrical and mechanical upgrades will make heating, cooling and maintaining the building more efficient.
“Another thing that is important: our band room and its storage area at this point are quite small to accommodate our numbers,” he said, adding that plans include renovating the band’s current space to be larger. “The band and music programs are growing and we want to support that.”
The main site work to improve traffic will be at the elementary school entrance.
“The parent line to pick up students there stretches way back in the afternoons,” Greydanus said. “We want to do a traffic study there and work with the architects to design better flow there with a minimum amount of street-crossing.”
He also said he hopes more parking can be added there.
Greydanus said the current transportation facility was 60 years old.
“It’s not very efficient. It was originally used for FFA programming and was later converted,” he said.
The current plan is to place a new facility north of the high school and turn the current transportation area into more parking.
“That will also let us add more handicapped parking,” he said. “Right now, it’s along the high school’s south side with none over by athletic facilities.”
A complex of new athletic fields on the north side of the campus is planned to provide better quality for a variety of teams.
The track around the current football field—installed in 1964 and cracked with age—will be replaced with an eight-lane track to allow the district to host modern district events.
A new multipurpose stadium will provide a flat surface to better accommodate soccer; a practice field next to it would ease scheduling conflicts. North of those would be new varsity baseball and softball fields.
The current baseball and softball fields would be used for JV, local rec teams and little leagues.
The district intends to get away from the concept of fixed computer labs and buy more laptops that can be used in class.
“We’ve had some fixed labs in each building plus some carts with mobile devices,” Greydanus said. “More recently, we’ve purchased Chromebooks for carts at the middle and high schools and they work well because students don’t have to leave the classroom.”
He said the Chromebooks were easier to keep updated and moving away from computer labs freed up those spaces for classrooms.
“Plus, a lot of the testing for the MSTEP is done online,” he said. “For students to be comfortable, we want to get them more exposure to typing in their answers. Greater availability will help our students develop those skills.”
He said districts are also being required to have phone systems that send location information to 911 central dispatch. Since the current system does not meet the requirements, it needs to be replaced.
Greydanus said the athletic center, lacking air conditioning, currently has a safety issue with humidity. In the summer, the cool floors can become slick with condensation.
The project would add air conditioning and also an addition to the front that will allow guests to enter and make their way to the public restrooms without tracking wet feet across the court surface.
“The district did what it could with the money it had at the time,” he said. “This will increase its usability.”
The addition also allows for a kiosk and some security at the front; currently, guests can simply bypass the office area.
For those wondering why the district isn’t simply using money already coming in through the district’s sinking fund millage, Greydanus said it simply isn’t enough to tackle the size of projects like this.
The district is five years into the 0.05-mill tax that will be levied for 10 years. It provides approximately $170,000 annually.
“It’s been a wonderful source to do a variety of things,” Greydanus said, saying it had funded the secure entrance project at the middle school and added outdoor lighting. “It’s great to have that; it’s just not sufficient to keep up with and address the issues in the bond.”
Greydanus also said the district’s general fund could not be stretched to cover costs of this magnitude. Bonds such as this cannot be used to fund teacher salaries or utility costs, but they do free up money in the general fund to be focused there.
“The general fund just doesn’t allow for the types of construction upgrades that become necessary over time. School construction is expensive; there are a lot of safety requirements. They cost extra money, but they’re also built to last.
Just look at our high school; it’s 42 years old and is a solid building and has been well maintained.”
He invited the public to seek him out for any questions they might have about the bond.
“And input will be sought from many groups to decide the final project details if this passes,” he said.
Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (269) 561-7331.
Contact Ryan Lewis at email@example.com or (269) 673-5534.