District seeking bids for construction of second entryway to middle school

Published 9:54 am Thursday, June 18, 2015

While most of the safety and security improvements administrators with Dowagiac Union Schools are looking to make to their school buildings hinge on the success of a pair bond proposals at the polls this fall, district leaders are looking to break ground this summer on a construction project that’s been on their to-do list for years.

The district is currently seeking bids for a project to extend the south end length of Riverside Drive to Mathews Street, eliminating the dead-end roadway leading up to Dowagiac Middle School. This approximately 1,500-foot extension would create a second point of entry leading to the sixth-eight grade school facility, increasing the safety and security of the students and staff using the building, said Union Schools Superintendent Paul Hartsig.

The middle school presently sits at the end of Riverside Drive, with only a single point of access for vehicles approaching or leaving the building. This layout creates problems for first-responders in the event of an emergency, especially when large vehicles like fire engines are needed on scene, Hartsig said.

“It’s important to us to have the safest buildings we can possibly have,” he said. “Having only one way in and out of the middle school is a tough, tough problem to have.”

Traffic accidents that occur on the stretch of Riverside leading to the school could also cause problems, as any road closings would leave buses and other vehicles stranded until cleared. This situation has occurred in the past after a bus was hit in a minor rear-end collision several years ago, causing traffic to become backed up both ways, Hartsig said.

“This is something that people expect us to look at, to do something to solve,” he said.

The construction of a second roadway leading to the middle school is something district leadership has considered since the opening of the building in 2005, with talks intensifying in recent years, especially in light of the suicide outside the school grounds in 2013.

Hartsig and other school administrators have been meeting since the beginning of the year with engineers from area surveying firm Wightman and Associates to create plans for construction of a new roadway. With the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians seeking to build a water line extension at their housing development on Daily Road in the same area, the district is hoping that vendors will be able to share resources and construction equipment between the projects, Hartsig said.

“Now is the right time to build, with the water line going in,” Hartsig said. “We wanted to seize this opportunity while it still presented itself to us.”

Construction costs for the project will come from the district’s general fund. The district is not disclosing any price estimates for construction, due to the fact the project is still up for bid, the superintendent said.

Once a bid is received and accepted, construction can begin within a week, Hartsig said.

“Our goal is have it finished up right around the beginning of the school year,” he said.

Once completed, the district will dedicate the new roadway to the city, Hartsig said.