Clawson Public Schools discusses buildings, future bond

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published December 8, 2020


CLAWSON — On Nov. 23, Clawson Public Schools held a virtual community forum to discuss and solicit input regarding a school facilities plan.

This summer, the district began planning for a bond issue to address facility and equipment issues, including underutilization of buildings and end-of-life infrastructure. In August 2021, Clawson voters likely will vote on a possible 30-year bond that would generate approximately $54.1 million in total.

A Bond Steering Committee — composed of more than 40 members representing parents, students, teachers, staff, community members, business owners, city leaders and other stakeholders — leads the initiative.

In March, the Troy School District denied Clawson Public Schools’ formal request to consider annexation, which is when one district becomes part of another.

CPS administrators had projected a significant loss of students and, subsequently, per-pupil funding from the state, resulting in an “early trigger warning” if it did not take immediate action. An “early trigger warning” means the district’s fund balance is projected to fall below the 5% threshold in the 2020-21 school year.

After Troy declined, CPS turned its attention to “right-sizing” options — or reconfiguring, closing and selling buildings.


District options
During the Nov. 23 virtual community forum, the district reviewed a presentation outlining options for how the bond money could be spent, as well as six different “right-sizing” concepts.

Of the approximately $54.1 million of total bond funds, $46.4 million is budgeted for construction, including fees; $6.1 million is budgeted for technology; $600,000 is budgeted for buses; and $1 million is budgeted for “instruments, furniture, etc.”

Joe Luther, of construction company Christman, said $44 million is the minimum price tag to keep the district’s five buildings — including their mechanical, electrical, safety and exterior elements — up and running for another 25 years at the status quo, referring to it as “warm, safe and dry.”

Luther added that the Bond Steering Committee came up with “a decent list of enhancements” that did not fit in the budget, but that would increase efficiency, including drop-off improvements and remediating the tunnel system under Schalm Elementary School.

Jackie Johnston, CPS assistant superintendent of business services, said a bond could help with things such as new construction, renovation, technology, equipment and buses; however, unallowable uses include salaries, supplies, textbooks and leased items — it currently leases buses and copiers — as determined by the Michigan Department of Treasury.

Jamie Stottlemyer, CPS director of operations, said the high school’s roof is leaking and is no longer under warranty; outdated finishes on the floors are labor intensive and costly; and the district’s HVAC systems are at the end of their life cycle, making regulation of classroom temperatures difficult.

Johnston said that with the passage of a bond, the district has the “opportunity to reimagine future facilities for the next generation … to make sure education is relevant for (our) kids over the next 10-20 years.”

She added that a vote in August 2021 would mean that construction would not begin until summer 2022, with larger projects not slated to be complete until 2024.

The Bond Steering Committee rated each of the six concepts in four areas: utilization, real estate proceeds, potential operational savings, and funds for additional enhancements, such as robotics classrooms.

The district’s recommendation is to pursue concept 2B out of concepts named 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B, 2C and 3.

Concepts under the “1” umbrella keep one elementary school open to house all K-5 students, sell the other for residential development, and move the early childhood programs and administrative offices from the Baker Building to the “central campus,” defined as the middle and high school complex.

Concepts under the “2” umbrella move all K-12 to the central campus and move the early childhood programs to a different building than Baker.

Concept 3 moves all students to the central campus, including the early childhood programs, and sells a maximum of three sites for residential development. It also builds a new early childhood program on the central campus, but the new build would limit growth of the central campus and take away dollars for enhancements to the central campus.

The recommended concept 2B moves the early childhood programs and administrative offices to Kenwood Elementary, which could happen immediately and would provide additional classrooms for growth; moves all K-12 to the central campus; and sells Schalm Elementary and the Baker Building for residential development.

The pros of 2B include more room to grow, more specials and collaboration with teachers, less travel time between classes, and more dollars for enrichment. The cons include closing a neighborhood school and lingering questions about playground areas, retaining green space and parking.

Brian Smilnak, of architecture and engineering firm Wakely Associates, said the concept is still “a work in progress.”

“We’re still working out details with the steering committee, discussing parts and pieces of this and going over a little more in detail how this is starting to take shape,” Smilnak said.

Officials said that the offices, early childhood, elementary, middle and high school students would all have their own secure entrances.

The middle school, currently at about 31% utilization, would house K-1 on the first floor and grades 2-5 on the second floor.

Middle schoolers would move to the second floor of the high school. The concept proposes to tear down the pool and build a two-story addition for both middle and high schoolers.

High schoolers would move to the first floor of the high school. The main office would become the main office for the middle and high schools and feature its own secure entrance. Shared spaces include the media center, robotics lab, cafeteria and gym.


A tax increase?
Stottlemyer added that the district is working to develop a community survey that would include the question of whether residents would support a 1.1-mill tax increase, which would generate an additional $8 million on top of the $54.1 million from the bond, to support the 16-20 enhancements the district identified.

“We will see what the community feels about that,” he said. “Our financial adviser is comfortable with a 1.1-mill increase, but I don’t know (if they) felt comfortable going beyond that because of our current debt and bond debt dropping off.”

Johnston said the bond would cost taxpayers no money, while the proposed millage would cost $110 per year for a $200,000 house.

“We appreciate having such a great committee and a cross section of those who live and work in the community to help us through this process,” CPS Superintendent Tim Wilson said. “There’s still a lot of questions that we need to answer, and we are going to continue to want input from the community as we make some of these decisions.”

Wilson added that he was “very excited” about the future, especially the funds slated for classroom technology improvements.

While more than 66% of Clawson voters approved a $9.9 million building and technology bond in February 2014, the funds are now nearly depleted.

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