OWOSSO — As the Owosso High School Madrigal singers began their rendition of Joan Szymko’s “It Takes a Village” Thursday inside the district’s new Performing Arts Center, it became clear what made Owosso’s 6-12 campus a reality.
“It takes a whole village to raise our children,” the students sang during Thursday’s grand opening of the combined campus. “It takes a whole village to raise one child.”
Officials said Owosso’s “village” overcame three unsuccessful bids to finally pass a $45.5-million bond package to improve the district in November 2017. The fruits of the proposal, including a new, 1,000-seat auditorium, were on full display Thursday as the public was invited to tour the middle school/high school campus off North Street.
Shiawassee Regional Chamber of Commerce representatives joined district officials for a ribbon-cutting ceremony shortly after 6 p.m. Musical performances by Owosso High School’s Madrigal singers, jazz band and drama club followed, along with self-guided tours throughout the combined campus.
Superintendent Andrea Tuttle acknowledged Thursday’s event was “been a long time coming.”
“It’s a dream. It was a dream in the making and to have that come to fruition is exhilarating,” Tuttle said. “To see our kids perform in such a facility brings me great joy for our students, for our staff, for our directors. We’ve always had great programming and opportunities but our facilities haven’t always matched what we’ve had to offer.
“I’m so happy, so proud of our community,” she continued. “This was a community effort. I happen to be the superintendent so I get to stand up there and take the credit but it’s very minimal on my part. The community passed it, the community worked through it, the community supported our kids and you can’t ask for anything more. I think it’s the most precious commodity we have, so to have people realize that and realize the importance of public education … It kind of brings tears to my eyes quite frankly.”
The push to improve the district’s infrastructure began in 2014 as a group of community members gathered to discuss district needs, ultimately developing a $54.1-million package to fund additions to the existing high school — including classrooms, offices, an auditorium, a gymnasium and a pool — while also adding the middle school campus to the high school site.
Voters rejected request by a margin of 59.03% to 40.97% in February 2015, and a second $49.5-million proposal was shot down by voters in November 2015, 55.02% to 44.98%.
“As you can imagine, there was frustration, sadness and a gamut of emotions felt by our staff, community members and even our students. However, at Owosso Public Schools, we are all in for Owosso all the time,” Tuttle said. “We give it our all. We strive to offer our students the best educational experiences in the county and beyond. We don’t quit where our students are concerned, so back to the drawing board (we went), but this time a large group of concerned citizens and community leaders came together and collectively decided on a proposal that they felt was both needed and that they felt our Owosso citizens would approve.”
The 2017 bond effort kicked off with a community committee of about 60 people, culled from a broad cross-section of the district, who spent six months looking into what the schools needed.
After rejecting building a new high school for $74 million or a new middle school for $48 million, committee members recommended a combination middle/high school, as well as additions to each of the elementary schools. They omitted items sought in previous bond campaigns, including a swimming pool, air-conditioning system and new buses.
The bond, approved by a margin of 58% to 42% in November 2017, covered the cost of the building construction and renovations to combine grades 6-12 at the high school campus, while maintaining separation between middle school and high school students.
The measure also included funding for an updated career and technical education space, a new gymnasium for middle school students and an auditorium capable of seating 1,000 people, which now resides at the front of the building off North Street.
Elementary upgrades were unveiled to the community in August 2019 as the district held ribbon-cutting ceremonies at Central, Emerson and Bryant elementaries. Approximately 5,200 square feet was added to each building, officials said, to accomodate new cafeterias, new kitchens, as well as designated space for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics (STEAM) programs.
Work at OHS to combine the middle school and high school into one 6-12 campus was suspended amid the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, as the district’s construction firm — Clark Construction Company — was initially deemed non-essential under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “stay home, stay safe” order.
Crews were given the go-ahead to resume construction in May 2020, though the delay ultimately pushed back the transition of middle school students to the new campus. Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, the district had planned to transition its middle school students to the new campus at the beginning of the 2020-21 academic year, though with the nearly two-month delay in construction, that timeline was pushed back.
Middle school students finally joined the combined campus in August.
The Owosso Public Schools Board of Education in June unanimously authorized Tuttle to sign a revised purchase agreement with Community Housing Network for the sale of the former Owosso Middle School, pushing back a number of key dates in the process due to unforeseen delays caused by the pandemic.
The revised agreement maintains the $500,000 purchase price for the 219 N. Water St. property, with a closing date of no later than Dec. 31, 2022, approximately six months later than the initial closing date. CHN — a nonprofit committed to providing homes for people in need — intends to create a mixed use development featuring residential and commercial spaces at the middle school site.