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Coleman school board president advocates for passage of Nov. 7 bond | #schoolsaftey

Let’s talk about Coleman Community Schools’ November 7 bond proposal. This is the same proposal that failed on May 7 by 70 votes.  Yes, that’s right, 70 votes, it was close. 

This bond proposal is for 2.2 mills over the 2022 tax levy. It would provide the first large-scale renovation of the Junior/Senior High building that is nearly 49 years old. I’m talking about a building that has original lockers, windows, doors, electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems. 

As a result of the building being originally constructed as an open concept facility, the classroom walls are flimsy, hollow, don’t provide any sound barrier and are a safety concern.  Did I mention that replacement parts for the current, original HVAC system are no longer being manufactured? Because they aren’t, we currently scour eBay to try and secure needed parts.

In 2015, the voters approved a 2 mill bond to make the same types of renovations to the “newer” side of the elementary school. This bond’s primary focus was safety and eliminating open concept classrooms that were constructed of flimsy hollow walls, thus creating a safer and conducive learning environment for students.

The 2015 bond also included additional parking at the elementary school, purchase of buses, secure entryways at both buildings, updated roofs for both buildings, the purchase of technology, and some furnishings at the elementary school.  This proposal enclosed classrooms and replaced hollow walls with cinder block walls, just as the November 7 bond is asking for the Junior/Senior High. While enclosing the elementary classrooms, the lockers, windows, doors, electrical, plumbing and HVAC were all updated and/or replaced as well.

The November 7 bond proposal is asking for 2.2 mills over the 2022 levy with a focus on improvements and renovations at the Junior/Senior High School. The size of the project is much larger (because of the size of the Junior/Senior High School) than the 2015 bond of 2 mills for elementary renovations. Highlights of this proposal include replacing windows, doors, electrical, plumbing, HVAC and student lockers; reconfiguring classrooms; and replacing the flimsy hollow walls with cinder blocks, technology, and furnishings.

Sound familiar? Yes, the same things that voters said were a priority in 2015 for the elementary school. This bond would also renovate the locker rooms, enclose the media center, renovate bathrooms, repave all Junior/Senior High parking lots and provide for an addition of two classrooms.

Voters made elementary students’ safety, learning environment and facilities a priority in 2015. Now we’re asking voters to do the same for the Junior/Senior High. Why would we put less of a value on those students’ safety, learning environment and facility? 

Student safety should be of concern to everyone. Student and staff safety is the highest priority of the district. No one wants to talk about the unthinkable happening at a school, but Michigan schools are not immune – Bath, Oxford, MSU. The best thing any district can do is train our students and staff and make our building as safe as possible.

Our entire district is equipped with a highly effective safety system recommended by our local Sheriff’s Department at the time of its installation. This system was funded from a $248,000 grant applied for by the district. But the Junior/Senior High’s hollow, flimsy classroom walls are not safe. Rooms without doors because there are only two walls are not safe. The November 7 bond would replace the classroom walls with cinder blocks/drywall, and all rooms would have doors and a standard size/shape allowing for ease of entrance and exit. 

If you want students to excel, a conducive learning environment is imperative. Current classrooms are odd shaped, there is no sound barrier between rooms, and HVAC systems are extremely loud and provide little and inconsistent heat. It’s difficult for students to concentrate and focus when the sound of the HVAC is competing with the teacher and students are trying to stay warm.

The rooms are lacking in electrical outlets needed for today’s technology. There’s a lack of storage space, leaving teachers no alternative but to have stacks of books and supplies out in the open. Science rooms don’t have fully functioning sinks or lab spaces. Some classrooms are shared by multiple teachers, so one classroom could have information on the walls for multiple subjects that creates distractions to students. 

Intervention and other additional support for students often take place in the media center, which is open and provides no privacy. The November 7 bond would reconfigure classrooms and recapture current open-air space.  Classrooms would have cinder block walls and new windows, doors, electrical and HVAC. All spaces would receive new furnishings and storage areas.

We should be proud of our facilities. It’s hard for students, staff, and community members to have pride in a facility that is just plain showing its age from almost 50 years of wear and tear. Furnishings are original to the building or they’ve been acquired through secondhand sales.  Student lockers are so narrow that often students place things on the floor in front of their lockers because they don’t fit inside them. 

The classrooms can be extremely cold. We even have a classroom where snow blows through the outside door casing. Gymnasium locker rooms are in dire need of an overhaul. Showers don’t work, plumbing needs replacement, locker room layout needs improvement, and lockers need to be replaced. The locker rooms are used not only by Coleman students but by visiting athletic teams. This is not the impression we want to leave visitors with.

Facilities that are focused on the safety of staff and students, that promote a quality learning environment, that are up to date and modernized, not only attract staff and families but encourage district pride that people share and that encourages other families to attend also.

Voters, please consider making the Junior/Senior High a priority like you did with the elementary school in 2015. Be an informed voter and do your homework. Attend the community meeting on October 9 at 6:30 pm in the  Junior/Senior High media center, call the Junior Senior High at 989-465-6171 and ask about the bond, ask to take a tour of the facility, and ask current staff and students what their concerns are. 

If you wonder how this bond will impact your taxes,  run the tax calculator on the school’s bond page, https://www.colemanschools.net/page/bond-information-2023. Be sure to use the TAXABLE VALUE of your property (not the assessed value). If you don’t know your taxable value, look it up on the county website, https://midlandcountymi.gov/treasurer-property-tax. If someone tells you how the bond will impact your taxes, do not assume the information is correct. Use the tax calculator to get accurate information for your property.  Depending on your income, you may qualify for a Michigan Homestead Property Tax Credit. Use the tax calculator to find out.

Please vote YES on November 7 so we can renovate and update the Junior/Senior High so that safety needs are addressed, the learning environments are supportive to student success, and all aspects of the building are points of pride for the staff, students, and community.

Lorie Fox is president of the Coleman Community Schools Board of Education.

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