District voters approve pair of school bonds
Published 10:27 pm Tuesday, November 3, 2015
After months of campaigning, leaders with the Dowagiac Union Schools district received the two simple answers they were looking for from the public.
On Tuesday, district voters approved the pair of bond proposals that total $37 million intended to raise money for renovations to five of the district’s school buildings. The bonds passed by 117 and 50 votes, respectively, according to preliminary election results.
“We’re grateful that the community supported our schools and recognized the needs that we have,” said Union Schools Superintendent Paul Hartsig. “We look forward to moving toward the next steps and bringing our facilities up to 21st Century educational standards.”
The two bonds will generate more than $37 million worth of funds, which would pay for additions and improvements to Dowagiac Union High School, Patrick Hamilton, Justus Gage, Kincheloe and Sister Lakes elementary schools and Chris Taylor Alumni Field. They were approved for placement on the November ballot by the Dowagiac Union Schools Board of Education back in June, following more than a year’s worth of development and planning.
“It’s been really nice to see a lot of community members come together for a common cause,” said Justus Gage Elementary Principal Bryan Henry at a celebration party following the election.
The focus of these renovations will be on security, infrastructure, technology and accessibility needs of the buildings, which range in age from 54 years old (Union High School) to 69 years old (Sister Lakes). Among the major components of the district’s plan includes the construction of secure entrance vestibules at each of the five school buildings, installation of new heating and cooling systems in each building, improved access for people with disabilities and new furniture and technology.
The first of the two bonds will generate $27 million worth of funds, through a millage increase of 2.5 mills to district households over a period not to exceed 26 years. Complete renovation work to Dowagiac Union High School and partial renovations to the four elementary buildings are covered through this bond, as well as the construction of ADA-compliant bleachers at Chris Taylor Alumni Field.
The second bond will raise $10.2 million through a millage bump of 1 mill over a period not to exceed 20 years. These funds will finish out renovations to the elementary buildings, as well as pay for the construction of a competition gym at Union High School.
Since both proposals were passed, owners of a home with an appraised value of $80,000 (which would have a taxable value of $40,000) can expect to pay an extra $140 a year, or $2.69 per week.
With passage of the bonds, designers with 7GenAE will begin working with administrators to create blueprints for the construction work, which is slated to begin next summer. Overall, the work to all six facilities is expected to take between 36 to 48 months.
The creation of the bond proposals started more than a year ago, when the district began hosting public tours of its facilities. Using feedback from these tours and a district-wide survey, a committee comprised of district administrators and members of the community devised a plan to present a pair of bond proposals to voters, focused on the top priorities given to them by district families.
Prior to Tuesday, the last school bond passed by Dowagiac voters was in 2001, when voters approved a 3.94 millage increase to pay for a new $23.7 million middle school building. The last proposal presented to voters, a $19.9 million bond to build a new high school facility, was overwhelmingly rejected by the public, by a 7-3 margin.