Voters in Washtenaw County will have an opportunity to say yea or nay to a $53.3 million bond proposal placed on the Aug. 6 ballot by the Washtenaw Intermediate School District to fund a major expansion of High Point School.
High Point School, located at 1735 S. Wagner Road, was built in 1975 to serve special needs students. At the time the construction was funded with a $2.7 million bond issue that was proposed and passed three years prior to High Point's construction date. Despite the building's age, the WISD has only sought one other bond issue in 1989 for renovations with no other funding requests from the voters in the interim 30 years until now.
High Point school was built to serve students with disabilities. But today, the school has evolved to serve those Washtenaw County students with the most challenging educational needs, including students with severe and multiple disabilities.Education research and methodology are advancing in ways that allow schools like High Point deliver more robust and effective education.
The dual pressures of increasing numbers of students who are at the school longer and an increasingly complex curriculum have put enough pressure on the WISD to consider options for expanding the school.
If the bond is approved, a 0.37 mill will be levied over 10 years. This would amount to homeowners paying $74 a year more in taxes on a home with a $400,000 market value.
If the bond request is not approved, the WISD will move ahead with a renovation and replacement plan that will cost $18 million, which will come out of the Special Education Operating Millage that WISD uses to reimburse local school districts for the cost of delivering mandatory special education services. That hole would be filled by the local school districts from their general operating money, putting more financial pressure on the rest of their general operating budgets.
The $18 million plan only address "core infrastructural needs" and would include:
- Renovation and replacement of the roofing, cabinetry, millwork, doors, windows, and entryways.
- Pool and water system upgrades.
- Fire protection and fire alarm upgrades.
- Plumbing, HVAC, Electrical and Mechanical upgrades and replacements.
The $53.3 million bond funded plan would include also include:
- The creation of four "houses" or wings that would be a new addition to the existing High Point School building. This expansion would encircle the existing pool and gym facilities that already exist at the school.
- The pool and gymnasium will be renovated and upgraded.
- Approximately 30 to 35 classrooms will be included in the new construction, with rooms dedicated to special subjects like music and art.
- New spaces for occupational and physical therapy.
- Age and ability-appropriate outdoor playscapes.
- Additional storage space for equipment.
- New furniture.
- Technology upgrades.
- Energy-efficient infrastructure.
The four houses concept is of particular importance because the integrative environment delivers education to special needs and mainstream students, side-by-side.
"The first set of classrooms will be designed for early childhood and will include Gretchen’s House, Honey Creek (Kindergarten) and High Point’s younger students," WISD and High Point School spokesperson Ashley Kryscynski. "Each subsequent section will house the next grade levels of students with Honey Creek and High Point students located next to each other in order to enhance opportunities for collaboration and shared educational programming."
High Point School is also home to Honey Creek Community School, Gretchen's House, and WISD's Deaf and Hard of Hearing program. High Point has served 1,300 high-needs students, while Honey Creek currently has 250 students enrolled. Gretchen's House currently serves 35 children.
Honey Creek, the first public school academy in the county, was chartered in 1995 and co-located at High Point School specifically to deliver an integrated learning experience where special needs and general education students learned and collaborated in the same shared environment.
"We know there are significant benefits of creating inclusive learning environments where students with disabilities and general education students are learning side-by-side including greater awareness of disabilities, reduction of stigma, and developing a sense of inclusion, dignity and respect for all students," Kryscynski said.
The bond's failure would also leave in place some building configuration challenges that make life difficult for its special needs population, such as the winding and narrow hallways that currently have doorway entry dividers. All of those physical characteristics make navigating a wheelchair in the building difficult. Also challenging to wheelchair users are a lack of sheltered drop-off and pick-up points and stairways without adjacent ramps.
The upgrades to the gym and pool will also make those facilities more generally accessible than they currently are.
"While the pool is currently accessible for our High Point students, the locker room facilities and storage are inadequate and will be renovated and updated to improve access and maintenance," Kryscynski said. "Additionally, mechanical equipment will be updated. The gym area will also be renovated to provide better storage of equipment, as well as seating areas for those observing activities in the gym."
When asked for stories about how High Point has affected the lives of the special needs students it serves, Kryscynski reached out to several parents who shared their stories about how High Point has made a difference in the lives of their children and families.
Andi Spengler spoke about her 11-year-old daughter, Emma.
Prior to the MOVE curriculum which develops students’ mobility skills, Emma couldn’t use a toilet and her parents had to change her, which made family vacations and travel impossible because standard bathrooms do not have private areas or changing tables to change older children:
“Because of the MOVE Model Curriculum and the staff at High Point, our daughter is now able to walk, which is something we never imagined would happen. We’ve even been able to go to Disney World with her because of MOVE," Spengler said.
Nicole Balensiefer shared the story of her 5-year-old daughter.
“Attending High Point School has given Lily the opportunity to interact with others in a way that was not accessible to her before," Balensiefer said. "She is able to fulfill her needs for social interaction while spending time in an environment that encourages her to learn and grow.
"She has made many strides in gross and fine motor skills, and has access to tools and
equipment that she would not have at other schools. High Point School has not only been a place for Lily to go and learn every day. It has given Lily and our family a community, a place where we are understood and feel that we belong.
"Prior to attending High Point we were fairly isolated and when something was happening we didn't have people we could reach out to for help and guidance, but that has all changed in these last two years. The relationships that we have formed because of this school are priceless and have been vital in improving the quality of Lily's life.
"On Lily's very first day at High Point, she used the potty for the first time! This is something that I had not imagined even trying with her at that time. I had always done my best to facilitate everything I could for Lily and to let her write her own story instead of the story the doctors had laid out for her. This experience made me realize that with the right people and the right tools, my daughter could do anything.”