Bond proposals dominate May ballot

Marion, RCAPS and PRAS hoping for local support

OSCEOLA COUNTY — On Tuesday, May 3, hundreds of voters in Osecola County will determine if they want to support bond proposals expected to improve three school districts.

Officials from Reed City Area Public Schools, Pine River Area Schools and Marion Public Schools are hoping voters turn out at the polls and vote yes, ensuring long-lasting building upgrades, security measures and quality of education for students.

Reed City Area Public Schools

Two separate bond extension proposals for Reed City Area Public Schools will bring in an additional $14.8 million to the budget if voters pass both. The RCAPS district is predominantly in Osceola County, but also extends to areas of Mecosta County, Lake County and Newaygo County.

Residents at the polls will first have the option to vote for Proposal 1, which would provide the district with more than $3.8 million if approved. It’s a zero-interest bond which would extend the current payment schedule from 2029 until 2031 without increasing tax rates, according to RCAPS Superintendent Tim Webster.

Proposal 1 funding will take care of deferred building improvements, safety and security, energy efficiency, educational technology and various upgrades such as sports facilities and classroom repairs.

Building improvements range from the addition of air conditioning for the middle school tech room to the replacement of portions of the middle school, high school shop, high school’s lower level and north lobby roofs. The roofs, Webster added, are reaching the end of their warranties set up decades ago.

Ensuring the school building is safe and ready in an emergency situation is another high priority of Proposal 1. If the bond passes, secure entrances will be constructed in each school building and the central office, security camera system upgrades will be implemented, phone emergency systems will be upgraded, additional fencing will be installed at the elementary playground, emergency lighting will be added to each gymnasium and sidewalks will be repaired.

Installing energy-efficient items in the schools also is part of Proposal 1. Money from the bond would be set aside for the conversion of pneumatic thermostat controls to direct digital controls, and the replacement of gym, parking lot and interior lights with LED lights and bulbs which conserve more energy.

Another need in the district is education technology, which will include infrastructure and equipment upgrades for staff and students. It also will pay for the cost to replace the track and upgrade the athletic field, the purchase of two used buses, carpet in the middle school and classroom furniture in the elementary school.

The second bond proposal will provide the district with nearly $11 million, and would be a 1.7 mill increase to taxpayers if passed.

The largest project of Proposal 2 is creating a multi-purpose facility at Reed City High School. The extensive area would be a combination auxiliary gym and auditorium, with retractable theater seating for 750 people, a stage, lighting and sound systems, a large weight room and elevated walking track which would be open to the community.

Athletic facilities also would be improved if Proposal 2 passes in May, with plans to expand the existing gym on the west side for additional space and seating, relocate the baseball field to the south to make room for a larger parking lot, and construct a concession stand with restrooms and a press box.

Upgrades also would take place inside each school building. Plans include an expansion and remodel of the band classroom, expansion of the media center and expanding the parking lots at the middle school/high school. The high school locker rooms, high school restrooms and high school life skills kitchen will be remodeled and upgraded, white boards will be replaced at the elementary school and window blinds will be replaced at the middle school.

“If neither passes, we have to skimp along and replace the worst roof first and try to continue with just the things we have to do,” Webster said. “We’ll have to look at what roof will need to get done next year and set aside some money for that. We’ll get by, but there are some areas that have been put off for a long time.

“Even if just Proposal 1 passes, that will be a shot in the arm because there’s $4 million that won’t have to come out of the general fund. Then we can do the things we need to do. ”

Additional information on the bond can be found at the RCAPS website, reedcity.k12.mi.us.

Marion Public Schools

Marion Public Schools is hoping to receive voter approval for a $2.7 million bond proposal for projects at both the elementary and junior/senior high schools.

According to ballot language, the estimated millage for the proposed bonds is 1.40 mills, which will cost district residents $1.40 on each $1,000 of taxable valuation. The maximum number of years the bonds may be outstanding, exclusive of any refunding, is 12 years.

The school district, which has approximately 500 total students, includes townships in Clare and Osceola counties. The elementary school was built in the 1930s; the junior/senior high school was built in the 1960s.

Approval for a $5.2 million bond proposal was turned down by the voters in 2015.

“The response from the community was that it was too much,” said Superintendent Mort Meier. “They asked us to find ways to cut the amount down and we have a revised proposal for 2016.”

According to Meier, the needs that existed in 2015 are still there.

“The buildings are old,” he said. “They are well maintained, but everything needs to be replaced sooner or later. Things wear out and we either replace them or stop using them. We have crumbling sidewalks, broken showers and toilets and leaky faucets. They’re not misused and they’ve been well maintained. They’re just old.”

The bonds would provide funds to replace the backup boiler at the junior/senior high school, install new temperature controls in each school, purchase new heating units for the 1992 high school addition, remodel restrooms and shower rooms, provide barrier-free updates for restrooms and locker rooms, renovate the elementary school kitchen and add security hardware at exterior doors.

Additionally, the district would purchase three new buses over a five-year period. The district now leases one bus at a cost of $17,000 per academic year because voters turned down the necessary funding for new buses when the 2015 bond proposal was rejected.

“If our proposal is approved this year, buying a new bus with bond-approved money would be very beneficial,” Meier said. “It would free up the money allocated for the lease to buy new textbooks.”

Funds also would be used for technology upgrades and enhancements such as classroom computers and projectors, student computers and other devices, an upgraded telephone system and improved communication infrastructure between schools.

The bond also would provide funding to replace the cracked concrete wall and railing at the high school bleacher area and replace sanitary and electrical service for the concessions building.

“It is vital that this proposal passes,” said Meier. “We appreciate the support that Marion schools receive from area residents and we know the community supports our schools and students. We hope voters will recognize that this bond proposal is a way to get the best possible education for our students."

To learn more about the bond proposal, visit marion.k12.mi.us/2016bond. Voters also may contact Meier at (231) 743-2486.

Pine River Area Schools

Voters in the Pine River Area School District will decide if they want to support a $5.8 million bond set to capture 1.08 mills. The district itself is mostly located in northwestern Osceola County, but also expands into areas of Lake and Wexford counties.

The Pine River district is 50 years old, and its three operating buildings were built in different decades. Now, they are showing their age. Roofs on the high, middle and elementary schools are in need of replacement. PRAS Superintendent Lukshaitis said water has penetrated through ceiling tiles and into the classrooms and hallways. School boilers are nearing 50 years of use as well, and are now inefficient. The replacement of the boilers and drafty doors and windows is essential for students to keep warm and for the district to save money on energy costs, he added.

Security also is a priority for the district, and if the bond passes, funds will help secure all building entrances so all visitors must enter through appropriate offices. Outside of the school facilities, parking lots are in need of replacement and redesign to help ease confusion and congestion. Resurfacing pavement also will increase safety for motorists and pedestrians. In addition, bond money would go toward improving sanitation ponds and wells to ensure students have clean water and proper sewage disposal.

The high school gymnasium and band rooms are in need of replacement as well. Lukshaitis and members of the board of education have discussed problems with the facility, noting water from the parking lot has seeped into the floor, causing extensive damage. The gym’s original bleachers have grown weak with age and are becoming unsafe for students and attendees of sporting and other school events. Building a dedicated wrestling room also is on the list of school improvements, as the team has been practicing on the cafeteria floor since 1968.

“When a school district is healthy, we attract people to the area, neighbors who work hard and improve our communities, and it benefits us all,” Lukshaitis said. “This is something we need that we’re asking voters for.”

For more information about the bond, residents can visit the PRAS website’s bond page at pineriver.org/bond2016.

Randy Johnston also contributed to this article