Saline Board of Ed Approves Scope of $180 Million Bond Proposal


Saline Area Schools Principal of Operations David Raft and King Scott President Robert Atkins address the Saline Board of Education Tuesday.

The Saline Board of Education is one step closer to presenting a $180 million bond proposal to the voters of the school district in November.

The board voted unanimously to okay a motion that approved the general scope of the project and a millage renewal that extends an expiring levy while reducing it by .5 mills.

Robert Atkins is president of Kingscott, the architecture and engineering that appears to be walking hand-in-hand with the district through this bond proposal process. Atkins said the approved motion allows Kingscott to begin preparing the application for the preliminary qualification of bonds. The board will be asked to approve the bond application in July and adopt a resolution with ballot language in August.

David Raft, Saline Area Schools Principal of Operations, went through the preliminary plans for the Board of Education - shedding a little more light on plans. Raft and his team, which includes Director of Operations Rex Clary, and officials from Kingscott and Clark Construction, seem to be honing in on a message around STEAM - science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics. Raft noted that the project will build STEAM labs in every building in the district.

"Our focus is as an educational entity. This is what we are here for. In 2015 we focused on the safe, warm and dry concept. We want to build in  a lot more education into this," Raft said, noting that maintaining and enhancing education was a popular theme in focus groups and polling of the community.

The project would also include revamping the Saline Area Senior Center, putting roofs on Saline High School and Saline Middle School, a new community and athletics campus between Liberty School and Saline Middle School, a new weight room at Saline High School, training and work areas for  the  Science Olympiad and robotics teams at Saline High School, inclusive playgrounds at Woodland Meadows Elementary, gender-neutral bathrooms in several buildings, and more. There are also technology and security upgrades planned.

Raft said the project will help the district maintain its position as one of the top school districts in the state at a cost that reduces the existing tax burden.

"I know the ticket for $180 million is a large ticket but when you look at the reduction in the millage and the amount of things we can do over the next 10 years, I think we'll be continuing to be in a good spot from an academic and facilities standpoint," Raft told the board.

Raft emphasized once again that the district chose a path that reduces the existing levy out of sensitivity to the pressures faced by residents, pointing to rising water and sewer bills in the City of Saline.

Board members had questions but were supportive of the proposal. Trustee Brad Gerbe said he appreciated the versatility of the proposal.

"I love athletic programs but I also think these STEAM programs are incredibly deserving of our support," Gerbe said. "I think that this bond proposal continues to make us a destination."

Board Vice-President Michael McVey made the motion to approve the agenda item. It was seconded by Trustee Susan Estep. There was a smattering of applause and cheering after the board voted unanimously to approve the motion.

Prior to the meeting, several members of the public spoke in favor of the bond proposal.

Saline High School senior Carter Harris, a member of the robotics team, said he was supportive of important infrastructure improvements, but was most driven to support the proposal due to the enhancements to STEM education.

"STEM is such a growing area, especially around here with the University of Michigan being a hub for this. Giving students the opportunity to gain these schools early provides benefits to students, whether it be experience, scholarship or numerous other things," Harris told the board.

Mitch Rohde, president of Quantum Signal, said it was time to invest in the students who participate in STEM programs like First Robotics, Destination Imagination and Science Olympiad.

"Hundreds of your brightest students have done super well and benefited from these programs," Rohde told the board.

Rohde said he and other parents have been talking to district officials for several years about building purpose-built, dedicated areas for the STEAM teams so that students weren't stuck working in hallways and rat-infested closets in the middle school.

Rohde also told the board that the idea of an athletics fieldhouse - no longer under consider by the board - was a "catastrophically bad idea and a financial albatross for the district." Rohde said that should a fieldhouse be inserted in the bond proposal, he will actively work against it.

Michael Liemohn said he spoke in strong support of the bond bond proposal - particularly the STEAM labs in every building and upgraded science labs at the high school and SWWC.

"This will allow our students to get the scientific and technical expertise and the creative experiences that will allow them to be leaders in their future careers," Liemohn said.

At the May 10 meeting, the facilities team showed the following in the bond proposal:

  • Additions to all school buildings.
  • STEAM/innovation labs.
  • Improved career technical education spaces.
  • Upgrades to classrooms.
  • Inclusive playgrounds and outdoor learning spaces.
  • Improving the traffic flow on central campus (Liberty/Saline Middle/Woodland Meadows/Heritage).
  • Creating a second entrance to the Saline Area Seniors Center.
  • Moving the transportation department and bus garage to a place between Saline High School and Saline Middle School in the industrial park.
  • Improving the Saline Middle School athletics facilities, including the tennis courts, track, and athletics fields.
  • Updates to the pool at SHS
  • Expanding the weight room at Saline High School and moving it to the first floor.
  • Upgrading the SHS softball and baseball fields to turf.
  • Running water out to the SHS softball/baseball fields, creating concessions and restrooms.
  • Replacing infrastructure equipment.
  • HVAC upgrades at Harvest, Heritage, SHS and Liberty.
  • Parking lot resurfacing at Saline Middle School and Pleasant Ridge.
  • New carpets and flooring.
  • New buses, including electric buses.
  • Roofs Saline High School and Saline Middle School.
  • Investing in Informacast security systems in all buildings.

Maintaining the existing millage would have raised $220 million. A poll conducted by Epic MRA suggested the community would support infrastructure, security and educational improvements.

Also on May 10, Atkins did break down the $180 million proposal somewhat. He said 56 percent of the proposal dealt with infrastructure and safety improvements. Another 29 percent was dedicated to educational improvements and STEAM labs. The last 15 percent was dedicated to improving athletics facilities and community spaces.

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If there are rat infested closets at the Middle School, someone needs to make it a priority to get the rodents eradicated and their access point blocked. Rats are a danger to the students and staff and nobody should be waiting for a millage to pass to address that issue immediately. 

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How much of the needs, including the rat problem can the Foundation for Saline Area Schools help with.  Don't know if the rat problem could be the Learning Space part of the compass; especially if students are using the closets for STEM projects. 

Maybe letting the Foundation help with the true needs now and until inflation is more under control and building costs are more reasonable. Then trying later with needs that are left might help with bond approval chances.  

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