Seeking district improvements

Members of the Durand school board discuss a planned bond proposal voters will decide in 2020.

DURAND — The Durand Area Schools Board of Education is moving forward with a $28-million, 30-year bond proposal, voting unanimously Monday night to authorize Integrated Designs Inc. (IDI) — a consulting, engineering and architectural firm — to draft and submit language necessary to place the measure on the May 2020 ballot.

The proposed bond — developed by a citizens committee — would fund the addition of an auxiliary gym, a 599-seat auditorium and a three-classroom addition to Robert Kerr Elementary, as well as district-wide upgrades and repairs.

Monday, the board also authorized IDI to draft a second ballot initiative that would finance replacing the grass at Roundhouse Stadium with synthetic turf, a $1.6-million cost over 30 years.

Over the next few weeks, IDI will draft and submit language for both proposals to the Michigan Department of Treasury for review and, if approved, the district will be permitted to place both initiatives on the ballot for district voters to decide in May.

“There’s needs in all of the buildings, and from what I’m seeing here, we are tackling a lot of those needs as well as we are getting all of the big ticket items, the new indoor facility, the performing arts center,” Board Trustee Darrick Huff said. “There was a lot of give and take, and balance, in order to get as much new stuff as we could and capture the excitement that we’ve currently got going on, as well as take care of some of our longstanding needs. I really think that this is a good balance of all those things.”

During public comment, varsity football coach Rick Winbigler thanked the board for the potential investment in not only Durand athletics, but in the district as a whole.

“These investments in our athletes are transformative for the district. I know there’s a lot of great stuff on there, but just looking at it from the athletic point of view, the extra gym space, the updated fitness area, the potential to have a turf field not just for football but for training. The ability to have these new elements to train our kids, to boost our performance, to build athletic community (is great),” Winbigler said. “I’ve been here for two years and I think the thing we’re really building that I’m most excited about is athletic community between all sports and all athletes. Seeing this kind of (potential) investment in our athletes and our school is really exciting.”

The 599-seat auditorium at the high school would be the first in the district.

Shannon Knapp, principal at Durand High School, expressed support for the proposed auditorium during public comment, citing a lack of current space for Durand’s performing arts programs, which was evident during a recent band and choir concert, she said.

“We were packed in there like sardines, I mean, it was packed (in the gymnasium),” Knapp said. “People were standing all over, they were up top, they were below, they were along the sides, and we even put extra chairs out.”

The lack of space has extended beyond events, according to Knapp, as groups are also competing for rehearsal space. The Durand Madrigals recently had to rehearse at the middle school while Durand’s theater students used the high school stage to prepare for their winter performance.

“I’m trying to shuffle choir and drama to use the same space,” Knapp said. “With the performing arts center, you’re going to have that space and they can hold their classes there, they’re going to have the changing rooms and all of the things that come with that so you have proper storage of the equipment that goes with a performance. It’d be a dream come true.”

With the board authorizing IDI to move forward with drafting and submitting bond language to the department of treasury, Superintendent Craig McCrumb believes the district is one step closer to making these proposed changes a reality.

“To me, I just think it’s such a great opportunity for us to provide opportunities for our kids, and for kids that aren’t even born yet that are going to be coming into these facilities and have a first-rate operation,” McCrumb said. “I’m excited about the possibilities for kids in the classroom with STEM, the amount of technology that we’re looking to implement. I think we’re just in exciting times in Durand.”

District officials are set to conduct a conference call with representatives from the Department of Treasury on Jan. 9 to discuss aspects of the district’s current bond proposal. Upon receiving the application in January, the Department of Treasury will have 30 days to submit its review of the current bond language, McCrumb said.

The bond proposal approved by the board of education Monday would cover the following:

n The construction of an auxiliary gym/practice facility north of Robert Kerr Elementary, featuring a competition-sized court, a weight room and an indoor track

n The construction of a 599-seat auditorium west of the high school gymnasium

n A three-classroom addition at Robert Kerr Elementary, including a specialized Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) lab for students

n The conversion of existing classroom space into STEM labs at the middle school and high school

n The installation of air conditioning at both Bertha Neal and Robert Kerr Elementary

n Updated lighting, ceilings, cabinetry and flooring at Bertha Neal and Robert Kerr Elementary (as needed)

n A new boiler at the middle school

n Air conditioning control work at the middle school and high school

n Upgrades to computer technology

n Resurfacing of the high school track (pending an evaluation)

n District-wide phone system upgrades to become 911 compliant by 2021

n Updating all facilities to become ADA compliant

The 30-year, 1.24-mill proposal, if approved by the Department of Treasury, and by district voters in May, would raise taxes, according to McCrumb; the owner of a home with a taxable value of $50,000 would pay approximately $62 more per year.

If district voters also approve the second ballot initiative to resurface Roundhouse Stadium with synthetic turf, the owner of a home with a taxable value of $50,000 would pay approximately $12 more per year, or $74 total, McCrumb said.

The decision to make field turf a separate ballot proposal was based on feedback the board of education had received regarding how much the majority of Durand homeowners would be willing to spend per year for bond upgrades, according to Board Vice President Cari Shephard.

“Just because it’s on its own doesn’t mean that it won’t be promoted by you guys and by us,” Shephard said. “We want it too, but we also know that we represent our whole community, you know, and that community was saying $60 (per year), so that really stuck in our heads that we were trying to keep it as close as possible to that…This is a way to throw it on there and then let the community really decide if they’re willing to pay that extra $12 per year.”

Regarding the main ballot initiative, if approved, the district would withdraw the $28-million bond in a series, cashing in approximately $20-million right away to tackle immediate needs such as the auxiliary gym and STEM spaces, according to McCrumb, while holding off on spending the remaining balance ($8 million) to do additional upgrades.

By conducting the bond in a series, the district would save the owner of a home with a taxable value of $50,000 approximately $9 per year, according to McCrumb.

“Nothing has been firmly decided, but the likelihood is that we would do the auditorium as a part of the second series and that would happen three years out versus right away,” McCrumb said. “Instead of just sitting on it (the money), it’s just another way to be responsible, taking the money when it’s needed versus just taking the money.”

At Robert Kerr Elementary there is currently no gymnasium — physical education class is conducted in a dual purpose space that also serves as the building’s cafeteria, though McCrumb explains the space really doesn’t work well for either and creates issues in scheduling and instruction.

Under the proposed bond, a three-classroom addition at Robert Kerr Elementary would extend north of the building and connect to an auxiliary gym featuring a competition-sized court, a weight room and an indoor track. The additional classroom space would help accommodate a recent influx of students at Robert Kerr, as more than 30 students joined the elementary school this fall, according to Board Secretary Blair Pancheck.

“That’s a classroom,” she said, “so, you know, the information is out there of what we’re doing as a district and we know that a lot of these changes are going to bring kids so we need to make those changes now.”

The connected auxiliary gym would serve as Robert Kerr’s gymnasium, as well as accommodate weekend athletic tournaments hosted by the district, according to McCrumb.

The idea for a bond arose in April when a group of parents expressed concerns to McCrumb about the lack of available gym space. With that in mind, McCrumb employed IDI to conduct a district-wide needs assessment evaluating the current state of all buildings and grounds.

Integrated Designs Inc. agreed to do the assessment at no cost, with the understanding that the district would employ the firm to complete the bond work if the measure passes.

Upon completion of the assessment in September, a citizens committee — comprised of parents, teachers, community members, administrators and board of education members — began meeting to provide additional input regarding district needs and desires.

Approximately 60 to 70 people attended each of the five meetings from September to November, according to McCrumb, as the group worked on the scope of the bond project.

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