Dowagiac superintendent discusses district renovations at weekly Rotary meeting

DOWAGIAC — Bonds were the topic at hand at the Dowagiac Rotary Club’s weekly meeting Thursday at Wood Fire Trattoria in downtown Dowagiac.

In November 2015, Dowagiac residents approved a pair of bond proposals to raise more than $37 million worth of renovations to Dowagiac Union Schools’ district buildings and athletic facilities.

The focus of the improvements has been on increasing the safety and security of each of the buildings in the district.

Dowagiac Union Schools Superintendent Johnathan Whan was on hand to give Rotary members an update on how the bonds’ funds have been put to use through district-wide renovations.

Whan presented those in attendance with a picture slideshow consisting of before and after images from the district’s construction projects, including renovated classrooms, an updated security system and more.

“Many of you have probably noticed the exterior renovations to our buildings and athletic facilities,” Whan said. “Those are both very nice and needed. But the parts I’m most excited about are the parts you’ll never see. It deals with things like new electrical systems, new plumbing and bathroom renovations and new boiler rooms.

“The fact that our facilities team does not have to worry about boilers going out for the next 20 years is quite exciting.”

Original completion estimates had construction wrapping in fall 2019, but with several construction manager changes and the COVID-19 pandemic slowing construction, completion is yet to be determined.

“The goal of a bond project is to be done with construction within 36 months of construction,” Whan said. “We are now at 48, and as you all know, we aren’t quite done. As the second superintendent involved with the project, I’m now working with the third construction superintendent that’s been signed to the project and I’m dealing with the third or fourth financial manager of the project.

“That has caused some bumps along the road.”

Among the renovations taking place in the district, new roofs for the district’s four elementary schools were a highlight of Whan’s presentation. Originally estimated to cost the district $1.25 million, the total cost came to be $650,000.

“We weren’t sure we’d be able to get the roofs done at the elementary schools,” Whan said. “What was scarier was that the district was budgeting over $100,000 a year for just roof repairs. The economy was very good during the first three years of the project. Our district finance manager was very good at managing bond funds and generated $1 million in interest.

“That money has allowed us to decide to re-roof the four elementary schools and finish the high school roof. The economy crashed, which greatly lowered the cost. In this case, the economy worked to our benefit.”

In other Rotary news, Rotary and its Interact affiliate will volunteer with A.C.T.I.O.N. Ministries to help distribute food from Feeding America food trucks.

A sign-up sheet was passed around where members could choose from three different dates: 3:15 p.m. July 28 at A.C.T.I.O.N. Ministry Center 301 Main St. in Dowagiac, 3:15 p.m. Aug. 12 at Sister Lakes Community Church, 27119 M-152 in Dowagiac and 3 p.m. Aug. 25 at Holy Maternity of Mary Catholic Church, 210 N. Front St. in Dowagiac.

The Dowagiac Rotary Club donated $2,000 to A.C.T.I.O.N. during last week’s meeting.

“Rotary has always been into helping our community,” said Rotarian Melody Wallace, who filled in for Rotary president Bob Cochrane during Thursday’s meeting. “We’re really excited about this. It’s a great experience, and being able to help the community makes it worthwhile.”

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