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May 8, 2013

Historic Madison Schools bond issue passes by 100 votes

$11.4 million bond for central campus won’t increase taxes

By Andy Kozlowski
C & G Staff Writer

Voters in the Madison school district hit the polls Tuesday, May 7 to decide an $11.4 million bond issue, the measure passing by exactly 100 votes. 

There were 728 votes cast in all: 414 for (56.87 percent), 314 against (43.13 percent).

The proposal was for the creation of a new central campus at 11 Mile and Hales, where two elementary schools, Halfman and Edison, will consolidate in a renovated and expanded Schoenhals building, complete with a new access road off 11 Mile.

The bond won’t cost taxpayers anything beyond what they’re already paying. Instead, it will be financed by transferring a current debt property tax that is expiring soon.

School officials say the call for the new elementary school is driven by a desire for improved space utilization, technology and student safety. And this is just the first phase of a planned five-year district-wide consolidation.

The intent is to approach voters again at a later date for permission to build a new middle school behind Madison High on 11 Mile, relocating the Wilkinson Middle School students there, and linking all of the schools together in one interconnected campus, while finding a way to finance this second phase without raising taxes, as well.

But first, Halfman and Edison will be combined into a new, yet-to-be-named elementary school at Schoenhals, alongside the Early Childhood Education program already there. Madison Preparatory Academy, an alternative education program currently at Schoenhals, will relocate to the old Edison building. Central administration will relocate to Edison, as well.

Transportation details will be worked out with resident input, charting new bus stops that may include the old elementary schools.

The new gym at Schoenhals will remain, but much of the surrounding building will be built out with new features, such as retractable walls that allow for the combination of rooms, and more abundant natural lighting.

Serving kindergarten through fifth-grade, there will be 12 new classrooms, a new cafeteria and kitchen, new lighting and ceilings, a new air-handling system, and new fire alarms, overhead sprinklers and emergency lighting. A preschool wing will be added, as well as a new playground, sidewalks, a parent drop-off lane, a parking area, a central outdoor classroom and more.

A dedicated security lobby at the front of the building will process all guests, verifying they’re safe to have inside before admitting them through a second set of doors. Officials say the feature is cutting-edge among elementary schools, made in response to a post-Sandy Hook world.

All existing staff will be retained, and the new elementary school will be able to accommodate around 100 more students, anticipating future growth. As a whole, Madison district currently enrolls around 1,300 students in southern Madison Heights.

Through a district-wide space-utilization study, it was found that the district has 50 percent more space than needed, meaning its paying to heat and light 50 percent more rooms than necessary.

Also, a community-led steering committee found that new technology and student-centered renovations in the existing buildings, which are more than 50 years old, would cost the district $19 million — more than the $11.4 million for a new elementary school.

The district’s construction management firm overseeing the project, E. Gilbert & Sons, Inc., of Utica, predicts up to 200 local jobs may be created as a result of the project. In addition, they plan to separate the bond projects into multiple task packages, which would allow local firms to apply for the work in part or in whole.

In terms of timing, now that the project has been approved by voters, the design phase is expected to run from June through November, with bids in December, and construction starting in early 2014. The new building will then open for occupancy in January 2015.

The district will retain ownership of the vacated buildings, saving on energy costs since they would be used less often, and possibly leasing them out for community use, generating new streams of revenue in the process.

Those with questions or concerns about the bond issue can contact Madison Schools by calling the superintendent’s office at (248) 399-7800, ext. 3400.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Andy Kozlowski at akozlowski@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1104.