Pine River seeks $5.8 million bond in May election

LEROY — Voters in the Pine River Area School District will decide in the Tuesday, May 3, election if they want to support a $5.8 million bond proposal to improve facilities and amenities for local students.

Through the bond, PRAS seeks to capture 1.08 mills on each $1,000 of taxable value, which PRAS Superintendent Matthew Lukshaitis says is about 83 cents a week if a family owns a home worth $80,000. The district itself is mostly located in northwestern Osceola County, but also expands into areas of Lake and Wexford counties.

Over the course of 14 months, a planning committee made of district staff, board members, administrators and community officials toured each building to assess damages and needs and decided a bond was the best option. The PRAS Board of Education approved a public election bond proposal at its Feb. 8 meeting.

"We deliberated over a long period of time and concluded the only way to take care of these needs was to ask local folks to help us improve the school district," Lukshaitis said. "Now it's time, and I think the committee feels good about it."

The district has a number of items on its priority list if voters say "yes" to the proposal.

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. 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, he added.

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. However, state and county health regulations have changed their sanitary requirements, and Lukshaitis said he would like to move the team into their own space, away from where students eat each day.

Passing the bond in May is not only an important step forward for the district and its students, but also has the potential to benefit the surrounding community, Lukshaitis said.

"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," he added. "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 or attend the Wednesday, Feb. 24 parent-teacher conferences. At the event, attendees can ask questions and learn more from 4 to 7 p.m. at each school building. Light refreshments will be provided.

Lukshaitis hopes voters recognize the need to pass the May bond proposal.

“We are proud of our buildings and grounds, but we must be proactive and take care of the property as good stewards should," Lukshaitis said. "The Pine River Board is committed to providing the best possible educational environment for the kids of Pine River Area Schools and are agreed that we need new roofs, vast improvements in security and safety at all three office entranceways, and better parking and student drop-off and pick-up procedures. Our goal is to be safe, dry and secure for all of our kids.”