SMART bond plans submitted to school board

By BOB OLIVER
Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — The exact plan of what is to be included on the $76 million SMART bond for Dearborn Public Schools is very close to completion.

The bond, which will be on the Nov. 5 general election ballot, would be used to enhance the areas of the schools spelled out in the SMART acronym: science, maintenance, additions, renovations, technology and transportation.

A comprehensive plan of the spending of the bond money was given to the DPS Board of Trustees by Supt. Brian Whiston before the May 13 P-12 meeting.

“We have provided the board with the information they requested on the bond,” Whiston said. “Previously, they directed us to go out and meet with parents, community members, staff and get there input and we have done that.”

Whiston added that “the only thing we haven’t given to the board is the breakdown of technology and the breakdown of security by building and we’ll have that in the next week or two.”

The bond would spend $12 million on technology upgrades, $3.6 million for 30 new school buses and $600,000 for security improvement projects along with other projects including renovations to school buildings.

Trustee Aimee Schoelles said the initial list of things needed from the schools exceeded the $76 million cap and had to be reduced.

“There are wish lists that we won’t be able to fulfill, but we are trying to make sure that every building is getting some of what they need,” Schoelles said.

Schoelles also discussed the additions and renovations to the Deer Park and Henry Ford buildings. Both will receive major renovations in the bond.

“We have a couple of options for Deer Park,” Schoelles said. “How do we want to configure it? With a gym or a multi-purpose area? Because by adding the classrooms we need to add those on as well.”

The DPS also will need to work with the city to complete the additions to Deer Park that they would like to make because the additions to the building would cause it to spill over onto the neighboring property, which is a city-owned park.

Schoelles said that they would have to work with the city to change the terms of their lease to include the changes to the building.

Henry Ford Elementary School would receive major renovations to improve the integrity of the building. The board felt that the repairs were more beneficial than a teardown and rebuild.

“Henry Ford does have a little bit higher of a ticket price, but it’s because of the scope of the work that has to be done to the building,” Schoelles said. “We want to keep some of the main parts of the building like the lunchroom, gymnasium, and the kindergarten rooms.”

Trustee Mary Lane said that she felt restoring the building was the right thing to do culturally.

“I think it shows a lot about our city that we try to preserve buildings as a matter of culture,” Lane said. “It’s cost-effective and it’s a cultural heritage that we preserve things and don’t act as the ‘throw-away’ society.”

One thing that Whiston reiterated to the board was that the renovations and additions were for the current student bodies, not to accommodate more students.

“These additions are to deal with the kids currently in these buildings,” Whiston said. “It’s not that we want more kids in them, it’s just to deal with the students that are already there.”

Board President Pam Adams said that though the plan has been submitted to the board, there will be plenty of opportunities for the community to ask questions and become better informed about the bond. She added that the open discussion would help the passing of the bond.

“I think that the exchange with the community and keeping them informed is the key to the success of the bond,” Adams said. “When they understand it and can justify the reasons for it they will support our schools.”

Board Vice President Hussein Berry agreed.

“I have had some conversations with parents that have been very, very positive,” Berry said.

On the topic of technology needs in the schools Berry said that “once our voters and taxpayers understand the need, they’ll support it.”

Whiston said that if the board approves the plan, it will then be filed with the state of Michigan and the school will start contacting architects and bidding out the contract jobs for construction.

The bond is a 20-year that would not increase the current 5.81 mill rate taxpayers are currently paying due to the retirement of existing bond debt.

(Bob Oliver can be reached at boliver@bewickpublications.com.)

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