Public information meeting explains bond proposal

Published 2:35 pm Thursday, January 12, 2006

By By ANDY HAMILTON / Niles Daily Star
NILES - About 40 members of the community gathered Wednesday night to discuss the Niles Community Schools bond proposal. Superintendent Doug Law delivered a presentation on the proposal and answered questions from those in attendance.
The presentation explained some of the issues the schools are facing. Law used photos taken at area schools as examples of some immediate problems with the properties including inadequate classroom size, lack of technological ability, decaying building structure and subpar lighting, water and heating systems.
Most of the buildings were constructed in the late 30s and early 40s.
A member of the community responded by asking how long some of the systems, specifically a boiler, is expected to last. Law said he believed a boiler should be good for 40 to 50 years. The next question from some community members was why the school system waited 60 years to start worrying about the system. One member in attendance felt tax payers were being asked to cover the cost on a lot of problems that were a result of the school systems shortsightedness.
Law's presentation, held in the high school's choir room, also revealed the results of a Facilities Steering Committee that began meeting in March 2005.
The committee, consisting of 27 volunteers from previous forums, five community volunteers and four “experts,” was charged with bringing a recommendation to the Board of Education on the best way to upgrade the facilities with the information provided by a study done in December 2004.
The facility study was conducted by two companies based out of west Michigan, Tower Pinkster Titus Associates and Owen-Ames-Kimball Company. Owen-Ames-Kimball has had a hand in many Grand Rapids projects including the Van Andel Museum Center and Frederick Meijer Gardens.
Seven possible scenarios for improvements to school buildings were identified by the committee, from fixing everything without new construction, to shutting down four schools and building a new high school.
The final recommendation of the Facilities Steering Committee was a strong push to put a bond proposal before voters for 7 mils.
The recommendation included building a new high school and closing Cedar Lane, Eastside, Westside and James Ellis schools. Also, there would be major renovations to Southside, Ring Lardner, Ballard and the existing high school, and, additions and major renovations to Howard and Northside.
Law said the renovations were based on, among other things, classroom size and central office locations. It is often the case, Law said, “visitors to elementary schools must walk past six to eight classrooms in order to reach the main office, which is a safety concern for schools with younger students.”
The committee's decision, Law said in his presentation, was based on multiple factors including long term fixes, impact on community and the least amount of distraction to education.
Law said the request is for 7 mils. His presentation also explained how the bond would affect members of the community. A person with a house that has a market value of $100,000 would see an increase in taxes of $206 per year, or about 56 cents per day, when compared to the 2004 tax bill.
Law said the schools have already taken a step towards new construction by purchasing a $10,000 option on 68 acres of land about a mile away from the current high school lot at Lake Street and Carberry Road. The option is non-refundable and holds the land for two years at a selling price to the school at $7,000 an acre.
Law also said he has been told by realtors that the average cost per acre of similar land is generally around $8,000 to $10,000.
The bond proposal will be put before voters on Feb. 28.