District, community launches campaign for November school bonds
Published 8:00 am Wednesday, September 23, 2015
As the clock slowly winds down toward Nov. 3, leaders with Dowagiac Union Schools and the members of the community have begun their campaign to secure the passage of the twin ballot proposals that will shape the future of a majority of Dowagiac school structures.
Union Schools Superintendent Paul Hartsig gave a brief update of the status of the district’s pending bond proposals to the members of the Dowagiac Board of Education during the meeting Monday evening at Dowagiac Middle School. The administrator informed the board and the public that a citizen committee advocating for the two proposals has formed in recent weeks, and that project architect Seven Gen AE had created several floor plans to show what the renovated structures could look like.
Hartsig and other school leaders also been working to inform voters about the bonds, which are intended to raise more than $37 million worth of improvements to Dowagiac Union High School, Chris Taylor Alumni Field and the district’s four elementary school buildings.
The bonds are split between two different proposals: the first, a 2.5 millage assessment, would raise money to completely renovate the high school as well as pay for partial renovation of the elementary schools and high school football field; the second, a 1 mill assessment, would finish the renovation of the elementary schools and football field, as well fund the construction of a new high school competition gym.
The improvements to these facilities will focus primarily on safety and security measures, such as the construction of secure entrance vestibules, fire alarms and access control systems Hartsig said.
Another focus of the improvements will be on the learning environment, which will include upgrades to the technology infrastructure at each of the buildings, as well as new furniture and lighting. In addition, the schools will receive air conditioning, allowing students to learn more comfortably in the early fall and late spring, Hartsig said.
“You can have the most secure premises, but if yours doors or windows are propped open, not even the most advanced security system will help you,” Hartsig said.
With the average age of the district buildings between 46 and 69 years old, these upgrades are sorely needed, Hartsig said.
“The buildings are solid, so we feel that renovating is the most economical way of improving our facilities,” Hartsig said.
Dowagiac is hardly the only district in the area looking to fund improvement to their facilities: communities such as Cassopolis, Niles, Decatur and Marcellus have all voted for similar proposals in recent years, the superintendent said.
“All of these area schools are passing bonds, and that’s because many of their buildings were all built around the same time as ours,” Hartsig said.
The superintendent fielded questions from voters about the proposal during a community forum at the middle school last week; voters will have another opportunity to ask questions during another meeting, at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 30, at the Dowagiac Union High School media center.
In addition, Dowagiac United 4 Kids, the community advocacy group for the proposals, will be promoting the bond issue at upcoming Dowagiac football games, as well as other community events, Hartsig said.
While it will be impossible to say what direction the public vote goes in November, the administrator is optimistic about the chance the pair of proposals have at the ballot that day.
“I truly believe this is the best direction to go for our district, and now is the best time to make these critical improvements to our schools and investment in our community,” Hartsig said.