Leaders, students react to passage of Dowagiac school bonds
Published 8:00 am Thursday, November 5, 2015
Spirits remained high Wednesday morning as Dowagiac Union Schools leaders and students returned to their usual routines following the narrow passage of two historic bond proposals Tuesday.
Voters approved both proposals, intended to raise more than $37 million worth improvements to six of the district’s facilities, during Tuesday’s election. According to unofficial results, the breakdown of the vote went as follows:
• The first proposal, which will increase district millage rates by 2.5 mills, was passed by a vote of 1,397 to 1,280 — a difference of 117 votes. This proposal will raise up to $27 million worth of improvements to Dowagiac Union High School, as well as partial renovations to the four elementary school buildings and Chris Taylor Alumni Field.
• The second proposal, an increase of 1 mill, passed by a vote of 1,365 to 1,315 — a difference of just 50 votes. This proposal will raise up to $10.2 million, which will finish up construction work at the elementary buildings as well as fund the construction of an additional gymnasium at the high school.
The renovation work, which is expected to begin by next summer and take place for the course of several years, will focus on enhancements to the buildings’ security and safety, primarily through the construction of secure entrance vestibules like that present at Dowagiac Middle School; improving student learning experience, through installation of heating and cooling systems inside each building as well as the purchase of new furniture and technology; and increasing handicap accessibility, bringing the buildings and football stadium up to ADA compliant standards.
Less than 24 hours after learning the results Tuesday night, Union Schools Superintendent Paul Hartsig continued to feel the excitement stemming from the success of the pair of proposals at the polls.
“I just believe we have a great community, who, when presented with the information in a transparent way, made the choice to invest in our kids,” Hartsig said. “We appreciate that.”
In addition to expressing gratitude to district voters, the chief administrator was also grateful for the work that his staff and volunteers from throughout the community poured into the campaign in recent weeks to promote the proposals, he said.
Also in high spirits Wednesday was Dowagiac Union Schools Board of Education President Larry Schmidt. The Dowagiac native and former Union Schools educator said the passage of the two proposals will benefit not just students currently enrolled in the district, both those for decades to come.
Not only that, but the additions to the buildings’ infrastructure, security and technology will help Dowagiac schools keep pace with surrounding districts, many of which have also recently passed bonds to enhance their facilities, Schmidt said.
“If we’re going to maintain our student population, we have to compete on the same stage with those other districts,” Schmidt said. “These bonds will put us where we need to be.”
District leaders weren’t the only ones buzzing about the passage of the bonds Wednesday morning either.
Marlie Carpenter, a second-grade student attending Justus Gage Elementary School, said she was excited to know the district buildings will be receiving some upgrades in the future, especially the addition of building wide air conditioning, improved wireless internet speeds and the new athletic facilities.
“Thank you for helping with our schools, and helping to keep us safe,” Carpenter said to voters who supported the proposals.
Superintendent Hartsig recognized the high number of district voters who disapproved of the pair of bond proposals, saying the district values their input and they will continue to be fiscally responsible with taxpayers’ dollars throughout the long building process.
“Our job now is to show them that we’re doing the work to the best our abilities, and at least give them a reason to be proud of our facilities,” he said.
Hartsig and other school leaders intend to convene Monday with architects and construction mangers to begin the planning process for the renovations, working out timelines for the various building projects lined up on the road ahead.
“We’re not taking any time off,” Hartsig said. “We’re going right at it.”