By Jim Newell
The Lake Orion Board of Education gave district administrators and engineers some direction on how they wished to proceed with a proposed bond during a special board meeting last week. The district also began to pare down some of the proposed items in the long-term facilities plan.
But the school board is still considering a bond proposal to update facilities and school safety features, enhance programming and add new classrooms to existing buildings.
The school board called a special meeting on May 15 to narrow down the details of a potential bond and long-term facilities plan.
The board’s general consensus and direction to the administration and engineers was a bond proposal not to exceed $160 million and to reduce the repayment period as much as possible.
The board also came to consensus that the district should tear down roughly half of the CERC building and relocate the programs affected. Trustee Bill Holt was the lone nay vote on demolishing the north half of the CERC building.
The district’s engineers said removing part of the CERC building would help ease traffic congestion between the high school, Scripps Middle School, Stadium Elementary and the CERC.
No decision was made regarding building a proposed $11.8 million new Early Childhood Center.
Board members also asked administrators and engineers to come back with recommendations on relocating the programs at the CERC building; and for more information on what a plan would look like if the bond term length was 20 years.
The complete list of renovations at the CERC totaled more than $15.6 million.
The school district is working with GMB Architecture + Engineering, a firm that specializes in pre-bond surveys, facilities assessment and bond preparation.
The bond proposal is actually a series of three bonds that would be levied over time, but voted on as a whole. If the board does decide to pursue a bond proposal, it would go before voters in the Nov. 6 general election.
Removed from the long-term facilities plan: a proposed $770,000 robotics competition room at the high school and canopies and scoreboards proposed for some of the district’s buildings –what board members referred to as “Oxford Blue Turf” material.
The bond would be a new-issue bond, not a renewal, and is designed not to raise the debt levy. The board is considering a $160 million bond for that reason – that it would not raise the rate that the district levies in taxes.
“The $160 million option puts us out to roughly 25 years” to repay the bond,” Assistant Superintendent of Business and Finance John Fitzgerald said.
State statute requires that 85 percent of bonds be spent in three years time, with 100 percent spent in five years after the date the bonds were issued, said GMB representative Brad Hemmes, adding, “Many residents don’t know how your conditions are in the buildings. That’s an issue that should be addressed and is a concern for a lot of people.”
The board also discussed the proposal to replace about 75-80 percent of Blanche Sims Elementary.
“I was a bit frustrated because I felt like we were given Plan A and I didn’t know what Plan B was,” said board Vice-president Birgit McQuiston. “How can we make an informed decision about this if we don’t know what all of our options are?”
“I don’t want the presumption of the board to be that we didn’t consider other options,” said Superintendent Marion Ginopolis. “We did look at other options and this is what I thought was our best option.”
Blanche Sims Elementary had the highest Phase 1 Critical Needs, with proposed renovations of $18.8 million. The bond proposal includes more than $14 million for a new addition at Blanche Sims.
“This is the plan that we’re recommending. Can it be pared down? Yes,” Superintendent Marion Ginopolis said.
A big goal is to get parity across the elementary buildings. Blanche Sims is the toughest one to achieve that, Hemmes said, adding under the proposal they would save the newest part of the building and replace the older part of the school to bring it up to current standards.
“This board has been talking about this for some time now. I don’t know what would prevent this board from moving forward on what we agreed to some time ago,” said Treasurer Jim Weidman. “How do we protect the assets of the district, which we have a responsibility to do.”
Weidman said the board needs to look at the return on its investment and ask how many students benefit by what the district does.
“I see it a little bit differently. We have some things in (the bond proposal) that are not going to be approved by the voters,” said Trustee Bill Holt. “We need to get some feedback and buy-in from the community. We don’t want to throw money away on some projects that the public is going to thinks is a boondoggle.”
Ginopolis said her “lens” is not looking at the group who will discount the bond no matter what is proposed and did not recommend getting everyone in the community to weigh in on the proposal.
“Everybody’s going to have their little agendas and find something in the plan they don’t like,” she said.
Orion voters passed a 2-mill sinking fund in August 2016 that is anticipated to generate approximately $3.5 million annually over the next 10 years. District administrators have said that a bond would cover improvements not addressed by the sinking fund.
Voters have not passed a school bond since 2002.
Fitzgerald said the Sinking Fund was about maintenance and fixing immediate problems and would only generate about $35 million over 10 years. “That’s not enough to address all of the district’s long-term needs,” he said.
Trustee Nate Butki pointed out that a year ago the board and administrators were discussing liquidating assets to help shore up the fund balance. “The worst thing we can do is go forward and not win,” he said of the proposed bond.
The full 2018 Long Term Facilities Plan for Lake Orion Community Schools is available on the district website in the Board of Education May 9, 2018 workshop agenda documents