If Wayland Union school district voters approve a $19.25 million bond issue in the Nov. 7 election, they won’t pay anything in extra millage.
Yes, you read that right, it’s not a misprint.
A new bond proposal to fund infrastructure improvements has been under consideration since May 2, when the school’s ambitious $55 million proposals were rejected by about 65% to 35%. The Wayland Board of Education and the administration have had public meetings to whittle down the bond requests, first to $20.5 million and now $19.25 million to keep the debt retirement millage rate at 8.4 mills.
The news was announced Thursday evening at a special forum at the middle school cafeteria that attracted only about 40 people. Just down the street on Wildcat Drive there was a packed house for a middle school band concert.
Finance Director Pat Velie said recent positive changes in the school district’s taxable values, from 1.68% to 3.17% over the last five years, is the reason for the welcome development.
“When your tax base grows, you have less to pay in taxes,” explained Superintendent Norm Taylor. “Before the (May 2) election we learned that we could levy up to $11.4 million without a millage increase, but we didn’t know this would improve by this much. It may seem like a miracle… but it happened, and it’s a good thing it happened.”
The $19.25 million bond issue will fund the following:
- Pine Street Elementary — an elevator, fire suppression system, a boiler and chilling and cooling system for the school and Pearl Street gym, and replacement of the intercom and bell system.
- High school — Replacement railings at the high school football field and repairs of a leaky press box. Plumbing upgrades for special ed ckassrooms.
- Middle school — Repairs of fire alarm and bleachers and a new backup generator, replace boiler and chiller.
- Steeby Elementary — air conditioning for the gym and cafeteria.
- Baker Elementary and high school — replace roofing. Add geothermal to preschool wing at Baker.
- Dorr, Steeby and Baker elementaries — repair plumbing problems.
The other major plan is to add a sixth grade wing at the middle school and turn Pine Street into a school for all fourth- and fifth-graders. It is estimated that 12 classrooms will be added and it will ease the population growth pressures from the early elementaries.
The third component is replacing the now defunct tennis courts at the middle school and high school with a 12-court facility in back of the middle school. The old high school courts then would be replaced my more parking space.
Taylor said he still expects the district’s population soon to exceed 3,000 students. Though Wayland had more than 3,000 in the past, changes in all-day kindergarten and computer facilities since then have made conditions more crowded.
Gone are proposals for building a new elementary for fourth- and fifth-graders, a new swimming pool, moving the band and shop programs to take up the old pool structure and new artificial turf at the football field.
Taylor acknowledged of the failed bond proposals, “Maybe it was too much and too ambitious.”
There was a lot of feedback from residents that the $55 million price tag was too steep and too many didn’t like plans to close and sell Pine Street, which now is 76 years old and functioning reasonably well.
One woman in the audience didn’t like spending $65,000 on repairs to the press box. One man said he was appalled that the tennis courts became “toast” far too soon after construction. One woman charged that Wayland kids have been “going to a school on a resort.”
Another man said the issue is trust from past administrations and board members, who seemed only to kick problems down the road rather than solving them.
But another woman flatly stated, “I came back to this school district six years ago because of the improvements that have been made… but we’re running out of room.”
Taylor said Leighton Township listed the largest population growth in Allegan County from 2010 to 2015, at 9.8%, and it’s now identified as the fastest-growing township in all of Michigan. He said these trends are driving Wayland school officials to seek bond issues in response to growth.
PHOTO: Supt. Norm Taylor explains “No New Taxes” if bond issue Nov. 7 wins voters’ approval.