District tables high school redesign vote

Board still reviewing costly code upgrades and funding options

Superintendent Kevin Polston addresses the audience during the final community forum to discuss feedback regarding the redesign of Lee Middle and High School on Nov. 4

The Board of Education held off on voting on the first phase of a high school redesign Monday because of new information delivered by Superintendent Kevin Polston.

“There are some code upgrade issues that we need to work through before improving a design because it could impact the timeline and impact the cost,” Polston explained. “We anticipate it will take a few weeks to sort through.

“I don’t think it would be responsible to approve something tonight without these questions answered.”

TowerPinkster, the district’s architectural/engineering firm working on Phase 1 of the redesign, has hired a code consultant to evaluate these new issues.

Phase 1 alone of the redesign could cost $5.1 million, and fire code upgrades could cost between $2.5 and $3 million.

With all that considered, the district may ask voters for a bond request in Nov. 2020, Polston said.  “I think we need to present (the options) to the community so they can make an informed decision.”

Superintendent Kevin Polston speaks to the board at its meeting on Nov. 11

Parents Voices Included

The board has hosted three community forums, with parents and community members discussing possible features of a redesigned school including:

  • Dedicated lunchroom
  • Flexible spaces
  • Better security system of people entering the building
  • New furniture
  • Courtyard as learning space
  • Connect to sixth grade building
  • Air conditioning
  • Wrestling, performance space, band room
  • Larger classrooms
  • Improved drop off and parking (additional parking near building)
  • Visible main entrance
  • Conference/meeting spaces
  • Community Media Center accessible from exterior
  • Interior and exterior upgrades

At the final community forum Nov. 4,  parent Pedro Hernandez asked Polston to name some honors and awards the school district had earned recently.

Without skipping a beat, Polston rattled off several, including the high school and middle school ranking in the top 25 in the state for achievement in the Mackinac Center for Public Policy;  the soccer team’s third place finish in the state in Division 3 this fall and the wrestling team’s first district title last year. Also, the marching band and varsity voices earned top honors two years ago the robotics team reached the state finals, forensics team finished top 10 in the state and the track team placed eighth in the state.

“With all these results, why are we fighting for money with such a tight budget?” asked Hernandez, a father of two enrolled in the district and one graduate.

Polston smiled and said, “I’m on your team. Godfrey-Lee is a special place and I’m proud to be here.”

Community, board and staff members gather to discuss redesign ideas of Lee Middle and High School during a final forum on Nov. 4

Funds and filmmakers

Polston said he invited the film crew, Newsy, to the forum because the district is considering starting a capital campaign to raise money. The crew plan to spend  five days in the district working on a documentary.

“I want the video to tell our story,” Polston told parents. “ Your children are amazing. The film crew was blown away by how much pride the kids have in this school and in the community.”

The crew, from Washington D.C., is doing a documentary around school infrastructure, and the federal and limited state governments not supporting schools. The goal is to capture inequities in school funding when it comes to infrastructure and how that affects students, teachers, parents and a community.

“We have good results, but still have this issue and you realize we have no funds,” continued Hernandez after the meeting. “This isn’t right. I wanted to be here to make sure this is getting done. It’s more like an obligation to me.

“We have to let people know this school with its limitations is still getting good results. I have to do something.”

Several community members asked how to advocate for their district and children. Polston has met with legislators on multiple occasions, including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, to tell their story and to get support. Advocating and speaking up is important, he said.

“Our kids deserve the same as others,” Polston said. “Godfrey-Lee has the second lowest tax base in the state of Michigan, but the fifth highest debt levy. You guys have approved more taxes than all but four other schools in the state. You’re doing everything you can do and that’s what makes it really hard that our students still don’t get what they deserve.”

Polston said school funding  won’t change until the state hears from enough people that aren’t OK with it, they aren’t going to change it.

“I know the governor cares, but that’s not enough. Will they do something if we speak out? I can’t promise that, but we can’t stay silent. It’s our job to advocate for our kids. Please don’t let your voice go silent.”

Polston said the final forum was held to make sure the redesign has the community’s feedback and voice so their identity is brought forward in the final design.

“I think they feel their voice is valued,” Polston said. “We’re honored that they’re giving up their time to be with us tonight.”

Parent Cecilia Garcia said she was there to support the community, help improve the school and to make sure their ideas get heard and benefit the children.

“They deserve it as well as any child in Michigan,” Garcia said.

A recent photo of Lee Middle and High School shows a closed off area of the building where the roof collapsed on June 5. A final community forum was held on Nov. 4 to discuss redesign feedback
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Cris Greer
For more than three decades, Cris Greer has been a wordsmith, working in the fields of journalism, advertising and marketing. Much of the past decade, he helped grow the MLive Statewide High School Sports desk as a supervisor, editor and reporter, which included eight newspapers in Michigan and mlive.com. Cris also was a freelancer for The Grand Rapids Press, The Advance and On the Town magazine for many years. A good portion of his early career was spent building and managing the copywriting team in the advertising department at Meijer, Inc., where he oversaw copywriting for print ads, mailers, brochures, signage, several dozen in-house magazines per year and much more. Read Cris's full bio or email Cris.

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