Central Grade repairs estimated at $30-40M

october 15—TRAVERSE CITY — A capital bond could include much-discussed upgrades at Central Grade School, which could begin as early as 2026 and wrap as early as 2028.

At a Monday board of education meeting, Traverse City Area Public Schools Superintendent John VanWagoner and Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations Christine Thomas-Hill presented a draft timeline to the school board for its next capital bond and what may be included.

Updates at Central High School and West Middle School will be part of the upcoming changes, but the biggest issue of the bond will be Central Grade School, a 100-year-old building with more than 540 students that sits in downtown Traverse City. It is the oldest building in the district and the largest elementary school, population-wise.

The building has a long list of needed repairs, ranging from its electrical and heating systems to its physical structure, that have been brought up to the board before. But those needs are complicated by the fact that the building also holds a special place of value in community members’ hearts as a community staple.

Now, TCAPS is starting to plan for what addressing that complex issue will actually look like.

“It’s time to begin that conversation,” Van Wagoner said.

While the conversation about what the school district will do with Central Grade is in its infancy, Thomas-Hill said that they do know, based on the size of the building, that the project will cost somewhere between $30 million and $50 million.

“There’s going to be conversations with the board and with community members on what we do specifically to the building,” Thomas-Hill said. “But the fact of the matter is, based on a square-foot cost, we know approximately how much money we’ll need to do something with the building.”

The board’s trustees gave the administration the go-ahead to develop and send out a request for proposal for an architect and a construction manager to conduct a facilities assessment and develop capital bond information, including renderings, plans and estimates.

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As superintendent, VanWagoner has the authority to send out an RFP without board approval, but he said he wanted the trustees’ “blessing”.

As of right now, TCAPS is planning to seek an authorization from voters to maintain their 3.1 mill capital bond in 2024.

TCAPS would not be seeking an increase in the millage rate, but a renewal on the current mill of upward of $130 million depending on taxpayer’s interests, Thomas-Hill said.

TCAPS passed a 10-year 3.1 mill capital bond in 2018 to address changes and updates needed throughout the district. That millage is at risk of dropping as a result of increasing property values ​​and the Headlee Amendment in Michigan’s constitution, which stipulates that the annual growth in property taxes cannot be greater than the rate of inflation.

According to their draft timeline, TCAPS is looking to send the capital bond millage out to the voters in August 2024.

If that passes, the early months of 2025 would include planning the details of the more specific details of the projects while gathering thoughts and opinions from the community’s stakeholders. The project’s architects would hold community meetings and focus groups and send out surveys regarding the projects, while working with the board and asking what groups they’ll want to hear from.

Trustee Josey Ballenger asked why the district would only be seeking stakeholder input through focus groups after the vote. Thomas-Hill said that since this capital bond proposal is for an 8-10-year funding plan, it has to be broad and flexible, so TCAPS and the architects and construction managers they hire will create and disseminate general renderings of their plans before the election, but decisions on specific details of any projects will be left to when the funding is secured.

Thomas-Hill added that the timeline they have now is a working document that will be part of an ongoing conversation at the board level. The plan will be flexible, in case they need to make adjustments in the future, she said.

“Develop a 3-5 year facilities plan to provide optimal learning environments,” and “Assess current conditions and identify areas of improvement related to safety and security, using best practices to enhance a healthy and productive school environment,” are both in the district’s strategic plan, which the school board crafted and voted on over the summer.

Both align with the repair needs in the district, especially at Central Grade School.

The trustees agreed with VanWagoner and Thomas-Hill that it’s important to get this conversation started now and garner community support.

“Central Grade School is something we’ve been stumbling around for years, and seeing it in black and white with deadlines, with projections, is really appreciated,” Trustee Sue Kelly said.

Board President Scott Newman-Bale said he also hopes that the longer timeline allows for full transparency between the board and public.

“I don’t think there’s anyone who wants to put it off any longer,” Newman-Bale said.

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