$8.4 million bond renewal for EPS on November ballot

EVART — Voters in the Evart Public School District must decide whether to renew a 25-year $8.4 million bond millage proposal for the district to update and upgrade its current facilities.

The estimated millage to be levied for the proposed bonds in 2016 is 2.44 mills ($2.44 on each $1,000 of taxable valuation), which is a lower millage rate than when the bond was set in 1995 at 3.5 mills. If passed, the funds would assist the district in making necessary upgrades to mechanical, electrical and architectural areas, as well as improvements to parking lots, play areas and technological needs.

EPS Superintendent Howard Hyde stressed the importance of the bond renewal.

"We have many needs that need to be fixed," Hyde said. "A lot of the things are health and safety related. Our goal here is to make the district the best it can be for our students."

Evart Middle School Principal Jason O'Dell agreed.

"The goal is improvement with a student focus. We're asking for what we need and what is reasonable for our community at this time. This renewal would be lower," said O'Dell. "We had a company come in and they looked at each building campus and our transportation center. They looked at everything from top to bottom, side to side. They were in attics, basements, electrical boxes — you name it, they looked at it.

"They found all of our buildings were in great shape structurally. They said we've been great stewards of what we have. The challenge is, we've gotten to the point of some major improvements. You can patch along the way for so long, but now some major upgrades need to happen."

The company ranked every detail on a one to four scale, where ones or twos were high priority, O'Dell added.

The middle school, a 92-year-old building, has the most need for upgrades. If passed, the bond will help fund mechanical projects including the replacement of the heating, ventilating, and air conditioning system, water heating system, temperature controls and sanitary piping.

"If we improve the HVAC in each building and improve the air quality and flow, that will have a direct impact on improving the health standards for our students," O'Dell added. "We'll save money with a brand new system because it will take less energy to operate. Boilers would be removed and new controls installed."

HVAC systems will be improved in the elementary and high school as well, which will help not only heating and cooling and air quality, but will improve health for students with allergies.

Improving technology is another large factor in the bond.

Instead of relying on Title 6 dollars for technology which does not meet district needs, the approved bond extension would allow $100,000 for technological devices for each building.

"Having that money per building would help us purchase Chromebooks," O'Dell said. "It's an economical way and a good platform for education. That would allow us the opportunity to have one-to-one technology with our kids. The idea would be to harness student technological understanding and be able to have adequate technology. As student engagement level goes up, the deeper the learning. It's not the end-all, but technology is a great tool."

Electrical upgrades for the middle and elementary schools also are a top priority.

"We purchased occupancy sensors a couple years ago because I wanted to try putting them in classrooms for energy saving, but we can't hook them up because we don't have proper wiring to do that," O'Dell said. "So part of the big project at the middle school is to re-wire the building for that."

Electrical boxes also will be upgraded at both buildings to accommodate the new technology.

Plumbing upgrades also are an urgent need, with sanitary pipes in need of replacement after years of patching.

In terms of transportation, millage funding will increase the height of garage door headers to accommodate taller, newer buses. The bus center's dirt parking lot will be paved to protect buses from rust, and $630,000 will be set aside for the district to purchase buses, either brand new or low-milage, used buses.

Student safety is yet another issue assisted by the funds. Energy-efficient LED lighting will be installed in parking lots, additional security cameras will be purchased and the middle school fire alarm system will be updated to automatically alert emergency personnel in case of a blaze.

"Right now in the middle school, in order for authorities to know our alarm has been tripped, we have to call them," O'Dell said. "Part of those dollars will be to put a new system in that has the strobe flashing for hearing impaired. The elementary school system also will be updated so their two systems will integrate."

Other large projects include high school and middle school roof replacement, replacing the middle school bleachers and creating entryways to the building and school rooms which are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"We're really trying to maximize the dollars that will be generated from the millage renewal," O'Dell added.

Some community members have suggested building a new middle school or creating the middle school as an addition to the high school, but O'Dell said the cost would be much more expensive and the district would have to ask for a higher proposal. If that proposal failed, the district would be unable to make any sort of upgrade. In addition, the option to create a high/middle school would create more problems concerning space — losing the only auditorium in the district, losing one of two district gymnasiums and sharing a cafeteria between two schools.

"If we were to squeeze everyone into two buildings, the middle school building is the one we'd use because it's the largest in square footage," he said.

To help spread the word about the bond, what it entails and answer questions about the bond's details, administrators have spoken to area organizations including the Evart Area Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Development Authority and more. O'Dell said he and other EPS officials would be more than happy to present to other groups as well.

Both O'Dell and Hyde are hopeful residents will vote 'yes' on Nov. 3.

"I would like to think our community will support the bond," O'Dell said. "Though they might not have kids in the school system, or your kids came through 20 years ago, or your kids never went through this school system, we have to look at the fact that there's a group of 900 students who deserve an education and deserve to have it in a quality place."