Godfrey-Lee — When a roof collapse in June 2019 destroyed part of a wing at Lee Middle and High School, it was hard to see anything but calamity.
Now that the dust has settled and the district has had the chance to determine next steps, Godfrey-Lee Superintendent Kevin Polston sees nothing but opportunity.
“We’re being given the chance to serve our students and our community well, and that’s exactly what we will do,” he said. “A quality learning environment is essential for kids to learn at high levels, and our kids here deserve the best, just like all kids do. Our job is to be very responsible with funds that we’re hoping the community will provide.”
The district is asking voters to approve a $17.79 million bond proposal in the Tuesday, Nov. 3 general election to fund major reconstruction, additions and improvements to the school building. Approval would mean an increase of 1.67 mills over 30 years, equivalent to an increase of $5.50 per month for the average homeowner.
The multi-year construction project would do much more than simply rebuild what was lost in 2019. The bond proposal includes needed safety and security updates, air conditioning throughout the building, a new cafeteria and commons area for use both during and after school, a new band room closer to other performing arts areas, a new media center with community access and the creation of a community wellness and resource center.
Insurance will cover the cost to replace the part of the building that collapsed, but “inspectors said that you have to bring the rest of the building up to current codes in order to restore the area that was lost. And we can’t do that without the bond,” Polston said.
Upgrades Needed to Aging Building
The original Lee Middle and High School was constructed in 1923, with additions built over the decades as needs arose. Because of the building’s age, most of its internal systems such as fire suppression and HVAC have been “grandfathered in” and have not previously needed to be upgraded. This means there is currently no sprinkler system in the building, and without air conditioning classroom temperatures can reach well above 80 degrees in late fall or early spring.
The building’s piecemeal construction has also contributed to accessibility issues. There are elevation changes and stairs every few feet along many hallways, with elevators hard to find. In some parts of the school, a person using a wheelchair or who is unable to navigate stairs must go outside and enter through another door to be able to access a different area of the building. The bond project would level elevations wherever possible and add ramps in areas where leveling is not feasible.
“Everyone knows that there’s a need – you can look at the building and say, yeah, there’s upgrades that need to happen,” Polston said. “I don’t ever want our students to feel ‘less than,’ and sometimes a facility can really impact how you feel. To think that these issues don’t impact the learning environment, that’s crazy – of course they do.”
A significant part of the project will move the media center from the second floor down to the main level of the building, where it can be accessed from the street. This will make public events hosted by the district — including community meetings, student market days and other kids’ activities — much more accessible.
To complement the main-floor media center, the district will construct an adjacent flexible learning space, which will have movable furniture configurations to allow for small-group or individual project work. This area will also be available to use for community meetings.
“We know that the environment kids need for learning today is very different than it was 100 years ago, with more opportunities for blended or collaborative learning,” Polston said. “And to have that area accessible for more events is an opportunity for us to better serve our community.”
New Wellness Center Would Serve Community
The bond will also allow for creation of a community wellness and resource center, which will house many of the medical and support services that the district provides in partnership with area agencies. Among other things, students and parents will be able to access dental services and vision screenings through Cherry Health, speak with a mental health clinician, take English classes through the West Michigan Literacy Center or make an appointment with a DHHS caseworker to discuss housing or meal assistance.
“A quality learning environment is essential for kids to learn at high levels, and our kids here deserve the best, just like all kids do.”— Godfrey-Lee Superintendent Kevin Polston
The wellness and resource center will be located at the front of the school building, near the main entrance, in the space currently being used as a band room. Its entrance will be outside of the school’s locked safety zone and thus will be accessible to anyone needing to use the services.
“This school has always been a resource for this community, and this (resource center) is just an extension of that,” Polston said. “When you look at the project as a whole, it’s really a win-win, not just for our kids but for our community. I think its passage would give students and staff a lot of energy and excitement. It’s really a great opportunity for us and we’ll see where that takes us.”
If the proposal passes this November, the district would get to work on the design and approvals process, which would take about a year. Polston expects the project would go out for bid in early 2022, with construction starting that spring. Construction would happen in several phases, with an expected completion date of fall 2023.