MATTAWAN, Mich. — The Mattawan Consolidated School district is hoping to demolish vacant buildings with the help of a nearly $20 million bond presented to the voters in August.
This will be the second multimillion-dollar bond request from Mattawan schools in the last four years.
The $19.1 million bond will go before district voters in Van Buren and Kalamazoo counties during the Aug. 7 election. The district hopes to use that money to demolish two vacant buildings, renovate another and provide other district-wide building maintenance.
Superintendent Robin Buchler said the upgrades to the campus buildings will be "really good" for the district. The school plans to demolish the Early Elementary and Center buildings and renovate portions of the Later Elementary building, replacing the old buildings with green space, which will be a "beautiful thing for the village," Buchler said.
About $11.5 million of the bond will pay for new roofs and roads at the middle and high schools, updating technology and safety throughout the district and locker rooms near the sports fields. Another $8.5 million will be used to demolish and renovate the older buildings, she said.
Two bonds totaling $78.5 million approved by voters in 2014 paid for construction of two new elementary buildings: Later Elementary, which opened last fall, and a new Early Elementary, scheduled to open this fall.
The bonds needed to build the new buildings were rejected by voters twice in 2011 before passing in 2014. Buchler, who became superintendent in 2015, said the cost to demolish the original buildings was included in the first versions of the bonds.
In May 2011, 55 percent of voters rejected two bond proposals that would have together raised $88 million. Six months later, in November 2011, 55 percent of voters rejected another set of bonds valued at $60 million to replace the two elementary schools. Voters passed the proposal after the third attempt in 2014, allowing the tax to be levied for, at most, 25 years.
Voters did not support the "pretty hefty" bond, Buchler said. So district officials decided what was most needed, which left demolition costs off the list of what would be funded by the bond voters approved in 2014.
Now, four years later, the school is hoping to pass a 0.45-mill increase, which would raise taxes on a $100,000 home $22.50 per year. Within the five townships that encompass the district, the average home market value is about $157,000, which equates to an about $35 increase if the bond is passed.
"The Mattawan school district is a huge part of the village of Mattawan," Buchler said. "You don't want huge vacant buildings."
She said the bond request is as "minimal" and "cost effective" as possible for the school.
"Because I'm a taxpayer in Mattawan too," Buchler said.
The 2014 bond used about $16 million for upgrades and renovations of the middle and high school buildings. Why the roofs weren't included in these upgrades is addressed on the district's website.
"With the desire to keep the cost down and focus on more immediate student needs, the roofs did not make the cut," the website reads. "At that time, many of the sections of each roof were still under warranty and had not developed leaks."
Buchler added that Mattawan typically stretches out the lives of roads and roofs by patching. But the roofs on the middle and high schools are at the end of their lives.
"I grew up in a home where we only got what we needed not what we wanted," Buchler said.
The approach for this bond is based off of that philosophy, she said. The majority of the people Buchler has spoken to "feel positively" about the bond, she said.
The renovations will result in a new early childhood education center, administrative offices and community space inside the original Later Elementary building. The district is also planning to move two nonprofits — which help give students food, clothing and school supplies — into the new space.
The original Early Elementary building was built in 1953, and the original Later Elementary in 1959. Both schools received upgrades and renovations in the early 2000s.
New safety features the school is hoping to add will include new cameras at the entrances to every school, additional swipe devices on doors to control access, sensors on classroom doors to alert the office when doors aren't securely closed and safety film to place on building windows throughout the district. The film helps delay someone from gaining entrance to the building through a window, she said.
The school has cameras already at entrances, but they only show a partial image of the person at the door, Buchler said. The district is hoping to purchase "full-body" cameras that capture the entire person, she said.
Buchler said the school has done a "tremendous amount" of training for an active shooter scenario. The district has faced three instances in which schools needed to go into a "precautionary lockdown," she said.
"That's three too many," Buchler said.
Voters in August will also decide whether to renew the 18-mill, non-homestead tax that provides operating funds for the district.