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Madison board approves ballot option for consolidation

Madison District Public Schools will continue to hold public presentations on the topic of consolidating the schools:

• March 12 — 8 a.m. —
Edison Elementary, 27321 Hampden
• March 14 — 8 a.m. —
Halfman Elementary, 25601 Couzens
• March 26 — 7 p.m. —
Wilkinson Middle School, 26524 John R
• April 9 — 10 a.m. — Madison High School (auditorium), 915 E. 11 Mile
• April 16 — 8 a.m. — Edison Elementary,
27321 Hampden
• April 18 — 8 a.m. — Halfman Elementary,
25601 Couzens
• April 30 — 7 p.m. — Madison High School (auditorium), 915 E. 11 Mile

— Andy Kozlowski

MADISON HEIGHTS — At a special meeting, Feb. 25, the Madison Board of Education unanimously approved a ballot option for the May 7 election, asking voters to approve 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 $11.4 million bond would not cost taxpayers a single cent. Instead, it would be financed by transferring a current debt property tax that is expiring soon.

The call for the new elementary school is driven by a desire for improved space utilization, technology and student safety.

“Unforeseen and uncontrollable variables face us every day,” said Madison Board President Albert Morrison. “We have an obligation to offer the best learning experience in the safest environment possible. This project affords us the (opportunity) to do that.

“With no additional cost to tax payers, this is an all-around win for our entire community,” he said. “Elevating our children’s education while increasing property values with an advanced school system is why this makes sense. This is why we have selected the election theme, ‘Madison Kids Matter.’”

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 would 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, would relocate to the old Edison building. Central administration would relocate to Edison, as well.

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

The new gym at Schoenhals would remain, but much of the surrounding building would 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 would 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 would 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 would 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.

“Safety and security is at the front of everyone’s mind right now, especially with elementary school buildings,” said Madison Superintendent Randy Speck. “This design gives the Madison District Public Schools an opportunity to be a leader in the design of safe and secure buildings.”

All existing staff would be retained, and the new elementary school would 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 they’re 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, if the project is approved by voters May 7, the design phase is expected to run from June through November, with bids in December, and construction starting in early 2014. The new building would then open for occupancy in January 2015.

The district would 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.

Now the district is making its case to the public. A number of presentations have been held so far, including one in the auditorium of Madison High in mid-February. More will be held in the near future.

“All of the questions are good questions, and they’re rightly being asked, especially since the district hasn’t gone through something like this in 15 years,” Speck said. “It’s our hope and plan that, as we’re answering these questions, people feel satisfied with the answers, and that they are comfortable supporting the district as it moves forward.”

Community groups interested in learning more can arrange for a presentation by calling the superintendent’s office at (248) 399-7800, ext. 3400. Residents are also welcome to contact the superintendent with any questions.