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Ballot proposal to ask for funds to address infrastructure needs, expected growth

First millage request since 2000

It’s been nearly two decades since Lowell Area Schools voters were asked for — and approved — a bond millage levy. District leaders say that with aging infrastructure and anticipated growth, it’s time.

Superintendent Greg Pratt

Voters will be asked on May 7 to consider a $52.1 million bond that would address infrastructure upgrades and improvements and extend the existing 7-mill levy for seven years. No millage increase is expected because the district’s debt has been reduced.

“Everything I’ve heard has been very positive so far. The questions we’ve been getting aren’t ‘do we need it’ but ‘how much can you provide,’” Superintendent Greg Pratt said. “I think one of the key factors is there’s no expected increase in the millage.”

Still, Pratt acknowledges passage is never a sure bet.

“That’s why we’re working hard to make sure people are aware of it,” he said. “We have a lot of infrastructural needs that are just too large for our general fund to make happen.”

Highlights of the bond request include:

  • Major infrastructure upgrades to all schools, including parking lots and driveways, roofing, public address systems, lighting controls, and mechanical and electrical improvements
  • Improved parent drop-off and bus circulation at the middle school and Murray Lake Elementary
  • Five new classrooms at Alto Elementary
  • Major middle school renovation
  • Outdoor athletic improvements, including replacing tennis courts at the middle school and high school with new synthetic turf fields and bleachers, press box, team room, lighting and restrooms; baseball and softball dugouts, press box, bleachers and concrete paving
  • Updated technology and furnishings throughout the district.

Voters were last asked for and approved a bond millage levy in 2000. The district has been able to maintain its facilities since then with sinking fund monies, Pratt said. But looming repairs and upgrades represent “too large a chunk necessary to be able to do that,” he said. “It’s time for a bond to provide some long-lasting upgrades and additions.”

If the request is turned down, Pratt said the district would have to shift general fund dollars from programs and extracurricular opportunities.

Community forums held earlier in the school year provided input the district used to modify the plan. More than 600 people also weighed in via a community-wide survey completed in November.

Lowell Area Schools $52.1 Million Bond Request

  • No expected millage increase
  • Accommodates student growth
  • Moves preschool to a new location, creating capacity at Bushnell
  • Limits elementary school capacity to 600 students per building
  • Addresses major infrastructure needs for next one to five years
  • Makes improvements to every school building
  • Reserves capacity for future bond needs
  • Provides long‐range plan for site and facility needs

Room to Grow

It is projected that the district’s K‐12 enrollment of 3,715 will grow to 3,842 students by 2023, for a gain of 127 students. But it isn’t just future growth that added a handful of expansions to the bond request.

At Alto Elementary, which would be expanded if the bond passes, art is taught via a moveable cart rather than in a dedicated classroom, one-on-one reading and other supports take place wherever space can be found, and more students than space in the gymnasium at lunchtime means some eat on the stage.

“They are using every square inch at that building,” Pratt said.

The same is true at the middle school, where students also eat in a quasi-gymnasium and classroom space is at a premium.

Bushnell Elementary, which houses the Curiosity Corner preschool, the Great Start Readiness program, kindergarten and first grade, has reached its capacity. The district is in the process of purchasing the vacant St. Mary’s School building on Amity Street and will move the preschool there. The move is not part of the bond scope and will be paid for with existing funds.

“Not only are we looking at how to address today’s needs,” Pratt said, “but for us it’s about making sure we position the district (to) where we can handle the growth but be nimble and responsive as the community grows.”

CONNECT

Bond language and building-specific plans

SNN article: Lowell asks for help in shaping $50 million bond request

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio or email Morgan.

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