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 Movable partitions separate classrooms from the building’s centralized media center at Lone Pine Elementary School in West Bloomfield Township.

Movable partitions separate classrooms from the building’s centralized media center at Lone Pine Elementary School in West Bloomfield Township.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Voters to decide $200 million bond for Bloomfield Hills Schools

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published July 7, 2020

  Bloomfield Hills Schools Director of Physical Plant Services Brian Goby talks about building improvements with Superintendent Pat Watson.

Bloomfield Hills Schools Director of Physical Plant Services Brian Goby talks about building improvements with Superintendent Pat Watson.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


BLOOMFIELD HILLS — If you ask Bloomfield Hills Schools Superintendent Pat Watson, residents will benefit from the school millage proposal on the Aug. 4 ballot whether they have students enrolled in the district or not.

“At some point, people might want to sell their homes, and they want the price to be competitive with nearby cities,” Watson said. “Right now, Bloomfield (Hills and Bloomfield Township don’t) have any green space, any parks. This would add a lot of community features and also fix what’s wrong with these outdated buildings.”

On Aug. 4, Bloomfield Hills Schools voters will be asked whether or not they’d like to approve a capital improvements bond to improve buildings, furniture, technology, recreation spaces and more at schools across the district for an amount not to exceed $200,155,000.

The tax levy averages 2.15 mills, and over the course of the 30 years, it actually would fluctuate depending on the debt payment due that year and actual taxable values.

Residents currently pay a school bond rate of 0.9 mills, but that is naturally due to fall to 0.85 mills next year. That reduction rolled into the first year of the new bond levy of 1.9 mills would be a new total rate of 2.75 mills in the new bond’s first year — which, according to the district, is a net increase of 1.85 mills for that first year. For a home with a taxable value of $200,000, the tax increase would be $370 in the first year. With an average levy of 2.15 mills to pay off the bond, that would cost the same homeowner an average $430 per year.

Watson said he’s cautiously optimistic that residents will pass the bond. That’s because he knows that, in addition to shared improvements the entire community can enjoy — like improved access at Bowers Farm, the E.L. Johnson Nature Center and a new pool at Bloomfield Hills Middle School — families know how badly the district’s buildings need some TLC.

The facilities’ shortcomings are highlighted at Lone Line Elementary in West Bloomfield Township. The charming hilltop location loses some luster when students head into class for the day and, essentially, are all packed into the same space. The large media center is sectioned off by movable cabinets to create makeshift rooms for separate classes. But without doors or walls that reach floor to ceiling, Watson said, the noise and movement is distracting, to say the least.

“I shadowed a class here one day, and as an adult, I found it difficult to pay attention,” he said. “Imagine being a (student).”

Lone Pine will lead the improvements if the bond is passed, said Brian Goby, the director of physical plant services for the district. The goal would be to consolidate K-five elementary schools at East Hills, West Hills, Conant and Way schools, removing the Lone Pine building and reserving the land for community green space.

Watson added that the benefit of that will be streamlining elementary and middle school curriculums so that planning district-wide can be more collaborative.

“Right now, we have a K-three school, a K-four school,” Watson said. “And we have three middle schools. It’s not a good use of money. This would get us back to (four) K-five elementary, two six-eight middle schools and a nine-12 high school configuration.”

Included in the plan are state-of-the-art special education, sensory rooms and therapy rooms, and an overhaul of not just of playgrounds, but also of the E.L. Johnson Nature Center and Bowers Farm to make them compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The current plant facilities location on Franklin Road will become the district’s robotics center, and the transportation and maintenance facility that backs up to the Bloomfield Crossing residential community would be relocated to a more industrial area.

“They’re going to love that,” Watson said with a laugh. “You know what time those buses get going in the morning?”

Then come the nuts and bolts of the bond: new and improved heating and air conditioning systems, that new pool added at Bloomfield Hills Middle School, new and adaptable classroom fixtures to accommodate technology and group learning, and improved security applications, among other things.

“Right now, this camera only shows up as a black and white thumbnail in the front office,” said parent Paulina Hakopian of the screening system at Lone Pine Elementary. “And if a child buzzes to get in, the camera doesn’t even pan low enough to see them. Oh, and the office is all the way down the hall from (where guests enter).”

Hakopian, a West Bloomfield Township resident, will have a second grader at Lone Pine this fall, along with a fourth grader at West Hills Elementary and a freshman at Bloomfield Hills High School. She said she’s strongly in favor of passing the bond.

“This will allow us to modernize our 1950s school buildings and bring our district into 21st-century learning. We’ll be able to properly balance our grade configurations and student population across the district,” Hakopian added in an email.

That is part of the trouble, Watson explained. The buildings in the district date back to the 1950s and 1960s, with the intention of serving students for around 50 years. They’ve done their job, he said, and it’s time to give a new generation the facilities they deserve.

“If this doesn’t pass, we’ll have to make repairs to buildings and take that money out of our general account. We’ll have no choice but to reallocate those funds and downsize some programming,” he said.

As to what programming could be on the chopping block, Watson said that hasn’t been discussed yet, as it would be a community decision that families would weigh in on.

“If your kid is in band, you’re going to fight to keep band, right?” he said. “But if we have to set aside $9 million to do bandage work to our buildings, some kids are going to lose what they’re passionate about.”

Watson noted that, as a capital improvements bond, the funds can never be used for operational costs, like salaries and bonuses.

“We will be able to update safety and security within our buildings. Our district has critical needs that, if not addressed, will take from our operating budget, putting our staff, class sizes and programming at risk,” Hakopian said.

On Aug. 4, residents in the Bloomfield Hills Schools district will be asked…

Shall the Bloomfield Hills Schools, County of Oakland, State of Michigan, borrow the sum of not to exceed Two Hundred Million One Hundred Fifty-Five Thousand Dollars ($200,155,000) and issue its general obligation unlimited tax bonds, in one or more series, for the purpose of paying for the cost of the following projects:

• Erecting, completing, equipping and furnishing additions to school buildings and other facilities which include multi-purpose gymnasium/cafeteria and auditorium/cafeteria rooms, classrooms, secure entryways, a natatorium, and athletic facility additions;

• Remodeling, equipping, re-equipping, furnishing, re-furnishing school buildings, athletic fields, playgrounds and other facilities;

• Acquiring, preparing, developing and improving sites for school buildings, athletic fields, playgrounds and other facilities;

• Erecting, completing, equipping and furnishing a new transportation/maintenance/warehouse center and the purchase of school buses; and

• Acquiring and installing instructional technology infrastructure and equipment in school buildings and other facilities?

The maximum number of years any series of bonds may be outstanding, exclusive of refunding, is not more than thirty (30) years; the estimated millage that will be levied to pay the proposed bonds in the first year is 1.90 mills (which is equal to $1.90 per $1,000 of taxable value); and the estimated simple average annual millage that will be required to retire each series of bonds is 2.15 mills annually ($2.15 per $1,000 of taxable value).

(Pursuant to State law, expenditure of bond proceeds must be audited, and the proceeds cannot be used for teacher, administrator or employee salaries, repair or maintenance costs or other operating expenses.)