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It’s a resounding ‘Yes’ from GRPS, FH, EGR, voters

Major bonds approved for three area districts

Multiple Districts — Tuesday’s election brought good news to three Kent County school districts with major bond proposals on the ballot, all of which received overwhelming support.

Grand Rapids Public Schools, Forest Hills and East Grand Rapids each saw their respective proposals get the OK from voters, according to unofficial results from the Kent County Clerk’s office.

Grand Rapids Public Schools

Requested: An extension of the district’s current 3.85-mill property tax rate for up to 26 years, to generate around $305 million for district-wide upgrades, new facilities, demolition of dated buildings and more.

Voters said: YES, 16,440; No, 5,720

Grand Rapids Public Schools’ request passed with decisive approval from voters, paving the way for the district’s Reimagine GRPS With Us! plan to move forward.

“This was a historic victory,” said John Helmholdt, former GRPS communications director who, as president of the SeyferthPR public relations firm, consulted with the district on the bond.

“It’s the single largest margin of victory of any GRPS millage in modern times,” Helmholdt said, describing the mood at GRPS as “ecstatic.”

GRPS Superintendent Leadriane Roby

During a press conference on Wednesday, GRPS Superintendent Leadriane Roby underscored that sentiment.

“Our bond passed at nearly 75%, and we are so excited about that,” Roby said. “Every voting precinct in our city voted ‘yes.’ These bond dollars are definitely a game-changer.”

Helmholdt said the passing of the bond was a crucial “fuel injection” for the Reimagine plan, the next phase of which is to identify underused facilities that will be shuttered as part of a greater consolidation effort.

“The district’s going to have to close and consolidate some schools. There are too many buildings, not enough kids,” Helmholdt said.

About $29 million of the bond dollars will go toward consolidating underused facilities.

Roby said she plans to unveil a preliminary list of buildings targeted for closure on Monday, Nov. 13, with community engagement opportunities to follow as the district seeks input from students, parents, teachers and community members.

The buildings on the list are only recommendations, Roby stressed, adding that there could be changes in the coming weeks. A final decision is hoped to be reached by the end of the year, she said.

‘This was a historic victory’

— GRPS consultant John Helmholdt

In addition to consolidation efforts, the district also plans to use around $233.6 million for new construction projects, additions and renovations to replace “old, outdated facilities that are not conducive to 21st-century learning,” Helmholdt said.

Around $12 million will be allocated for auditorium renovations, $12 million for renovations of athletic facilities, $7.3 million for technology improvements, and $5.6 million for safety and security upgrades and $3.8 million for playgrounds. Funds will also be set aside for cafeteria and kitchen upgrades.

East Grand Rapids

Requested: A 30-year, $158.9 million bond to fund major renovations at the high school, new classrooms at Woodcliff Early Childhood Center, and various other improvements at all six EGRPS buildings, with no tax increase expected over the district’s current 9.95 mills.

Voters said: YES, 2,581; No, 749

The East Grand Rapids Public Schools bond project will fund key improvements to the high school and upgrades to every building in the district.

‘We’re deeply grateful for the support of our community and we’re excited for our students’ future.’

— East Grand Rapids Superintendent Dr. Heidi Kattula

Around $118 million will go toward the high school transformation, which will include a new 61,000 square-foot addition, three-story addition with parking and classroom spaces. A 100,000 square-foot renovation of existing academic spaces is also planned. 

About $40 million will be used to build new classrooms at Woodcliff Early Childhood Center, and for other improvements district-wide. 

East Grand Rapids High School is set to get a major upgrade after the district passed a $158.9 million bond during the Nov. 7 election

Superintendent Heidi Kattula said the district is thrilled the community approved the proposal by such a wide margin.

“We’re deeply grateful for the support of our community and we’re excited for our students’ future,” Kattula said.

Anthony Morey, assistant superintendent of finance and operations, said there’s still a great deal of planning, design and other preparation work on the horizon before groundbreaking can start on projects at the high school, which are probably about two years away. In the meantime, Morey said, the district will continue to “engage our stakeholders and hear the voices of students and staff” regarding the work.

Construction of new classrooms at Woodcliff is closer to getting underway.

“We’re finalizing construction documents. We did all that work in advance, and we’ll hopefully be going out for bid in late November, early December,” Morey said, adding that contracts should be in place by February or March 2024, with next spring targeted for groundbreaking. 

Forest Hills Public Schools

Requested: A $340 million bond request to fund capital improvements for eight years, and a non-homestead millage restoration expected to generate $395,000 for the district.

Voters said: YES to bond request, 9,110; No, 4,571

Voters said: YES to non-homestead millage, 9,738; No, 3,948

The Forest Hills Public Schools community will soon have a new aquatic center thanks to voter support of the district’s bond request. 

The eight-year bond will also allow the district to continue modernizing all of its 17 school facilities and will fund the repurposing of the current Community and Aquatic Center. 

Other bond projects include updating athletic facilities at all three high schools; capital improvements at the Transportation Department and the Fine Arts Center; and life-cycle replacement of technology, buses, fixtures, furniture and equipment.

The Forest Hills bond will fund a new aquatics center and the repurposing of its current Community and Aquatics Center, pictured above

“We will be meeting with our architects and construction managers and really start to plan the next phase of the projects that the community just approved,” said Julie Davis, assistant superintendent of finance and operations.

The district is building a new bond webpage to help keep the community informed on the design process and to provide transparency on how bond monies are spent, Davis said. It will take about a year for most of the construction projects to get underway.

School officials plan to meet with those who use the current facility as they develop a detailed design for the new aquatic center, she said. Repurposing the current facility will take place once the new center is complete.

Also passing by a large margin was the district’s request to restore its non-resident (non-homestead) operating millage to the full 18 state-authorized mills, reauthorizing 0.5 mills reduced due to the 1978 Headlee Amendment. 

There is no anticipated increase over the current tax rate for either proposal. 

Reporter Joanne Bailey-Boorsma contributed to this report.

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Riley Kelley
Riley Kelley
Riley Kelley is a reporter covering Cedar Springs, Grand Rapids, East Grand Rapids and Sparta school districts. An award-winning journalist, Riley spent eight years with the Ludington Daily News, reporting, copy editing, paginating and acting as editor for its weekly entertainment section. He also contributed to LDN’s sister publications, Oceana’s Herald-Journal and the White Lake Beacon. His reporting on issues in education and government has earned accolades from the Michigan Press Association and Michigan Associated Press Media Editors. Riley’s early work in journalism included a stint as an on-air news reporter for WMOM Radio, and work on the editorial staff of various student publications. Riley is a graduate of Grand Valley State University. He originally hails from western Washington.


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