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Ferndale schools looking at bond proposal in March

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published October 22, 2019


FERNDALE — In March 2020, there likely will be a bond proposal from Ferndale Public Schools for voters to consider on the ballot.

The bond proposal, set to be voted on March 10, would provide the district with money to fund major projects and for renovations.

The most notable project is the construction of a new K-2 elementary school to replace the nearly 100-year-old Ferndale Lower Elementary School building. A new Ferndale Lower Elementary School would be built at the current site of the Center for Advanced Studies and the Arts, Superintendent Dania Bazzi said during an Oct. 14 presentation to the City Council. The current site of Ferndale Lower Elementary School would be utilized for CASA.

“We love Ferndale Lower, but it sits on 3 and a half acres and we’re just at about 500 students,” she said. “Most elementaries of that magnitude are on between 7 and 10 acres. So, again, a lovely site, a beautiful school, but a 100-year-old building is very difficult to retrofit considering 3 and a half acres.”

The CASA site is 7 acres, but the school district is working with Oak Park to acquire the neighboring land next to the school, Jackson Park. This would add another 3 acres to the project.

Other projects the bond looks to cover include updated classrooms, secured entry vestibules at each school, eight new tennis courts, new softball and baseball fields, a music room addition, and the removal of one pool at the high school to convert the space for a weight room and wrestling room.

“The most important thing is (the bond would) touch every classroom space that our students use,” Bazzi said. “Technology, heating and cooling, roofing — every classroom space will be transformed for our students. So in the next 10 years, this really is a game changer for Ferndale Public Schools. It’ll allow us to provide our students with the facilities to really capitalize on 21st-century learning.”

The school district currently levies 7 mills in taxes, but according to Bazzi, the bond would produce no increase in the rate.

Bond funds would be collected every three years starting in 2020. That year, bonds would be sold to bring in $53 million. In 2023, $35.5 million would be collected, followed by $36 million in 2026.

Going for bonds in this “three series,” Bazzi said, allows the district to plan ahead for the next 10 years.

“Rather than coming every five years back to the voters, we’re able to put out a plan for 10 years and say this is how we’re going to use the funds over the next 10 years,” she said. “We don’t have to spend it all at once. We don’t have to rush to make decisions. We have time to plan things out.”

Bazzi also stated that there will be a Headlee override proposal on the March ballot as well to allow Ferndale Public Schools to continue levying up to 18 mills on nonhomestead properties.

“It does not affect homeowners. It affects businesses and nonhomestead homeowners, and all it does is it allows us to continue to levy the 18 mills because, as property values have increased, it keeps rolling back,” she said. “So every so often, school districts have to put this on the proposal.”

Ferndale Mayor Pro Tem Greg Pawlica asked Bazzi why one of the pools would be removed.

“If you’ve listened to our community, our community has been screaming for a pool,” he said. “I’m just curious to know why a conversation hasn’t been discussed about allowing the public to utilize that pool if the school district actually isn’t.”

Bazzi said the two pools are not being utilized properly based on how much they’re actually being used. She said the district has worked with the Parks and Recreation Department to provide open swim opportunities within the district, but administrators feel that they still could accommodate that with one pool.

“Schools are using it less during the day in terms of classroom instruction,” said Bazzi. “To operate the pool that really is currently going unused is about $150,000 a year, just to maintain the chemicals and temperature. … I understand two seems better than one, but I think if we maximize the usage of one, we could still do both.”

Bazzi said there are plans to hold a town hall meeting on the bond in November. To get the proposal on the ballot, it needs to be approved by the Michigan Department of Treasury. The Ferndale Public Schools Board of Education was scheduled to vote on the Treasury application at its Oct. 21 meeting, which occurred after the Woodward Talk went to press.