Gwinn school district begins 2nd year of major bond projects
MARQUETTE — Following the passage of last year’s voter-approved multimillion dollar bond proposal, work is continuing on multiple fronts to update and expand technology capabilities, and improve buildings and athletic facilities at Gwinn Area Community Schools.
Voters in May 2016 approved the roughly $4.35 million bond proposal that came with a 1-mill levy for 15 years.
Superintendent Tom Jayne said the district used the catchphrase “warm, safe and dry” when pitching the bond proposal to residents, as much of the work being done is aimed at improving energy efficiency and security, as well as general repairs at the district’s three schools.
Work has already begun to repave the parking lots at the Gwinn Middle-High School and Gilbert Elementary School, which will also be completely re-roofed this year.
Last summer, Jayne said about two-thirds of the roof at Sawyer Elementary School was repaired, with the remainder of it scheduled to be replaced in the coming months.
“It was bad,” he said. “It was leaking. Literally, we had buckets in the halls and everything … So that was priority number one.”
That’s eating up about $224,000, while another $92,000 last year went toward installing security cameras throughout the whole district.
“We had security cameras here at the middle-high school but they were very old and outdated … and the other two (schools) didn’t even have them,” Jayne said.
Investing in technology upgrades is a large part of the work to happen this year. Including the security cameras, Jayne said the district will spend more than $800,000 to upgrade switches, servers and cabling; replace existing classroom projectors with 75-inch interactive flat screen TVs; provide teachers with laptops; equip classrooms with document cameras and whiteboards; and purchase new Chromebooks for students.
“We’re planning on about 1,100 students next year,” he said. “We currently have about 650 Chromebooks, so we’re purchasing about another 350 Chromebooks and putting a cart of Chromebooks in every classroom K to 12. That allowed us to really eliminate our computer labs. … Every student will have the opportunity to have a device all day long, but we’re not letting them take them home.”
Jayne said other districts have had issues with students taking similar devices off school property, like being broken or lost, which Gwinn wants to avoid.
Some repairs and replacements to be completed next year include installing new floor tiles in the three schools and replacing ceiling tiles where needed, as well as upgrading various electrical components in buildings and exterior lighting in parking lots.
The bond will also finance the purchase of eight new school buses, two of which — both 77-passenger vehicles — were bought last year. The district earlier this year ordered another 77-passenger bus and one about half that size, both of which will be fueled on propane, in an effort to save future fuel and maintenance costs, Jayne said.
“Compared to gas, you get more miles per fuel unit (and) they’re less expensive to maintain,” he said.
Jayne added the district is the first he knows of in the area, and possibly the entire Upper Peninsula, to use propane-fueled buses, noting the popularity of the vehicles downstate.
“If we find these two to be what we think it’s going to be, very efficient and low maintenance and better (fuel mileage), then we’ll move forward” and purchase four more propane-fueled buses, Jayne said.
The district this summer will install a propane fueling station near its bus garage, expected to be completed in August.
“That cost $60,000 to do that, and we figure we’re going to save so much money going forward,” Jayne said. “Also, our two mechanics are going to get certified in being able to service those, and then if anybody else in the local area goes that way, and they need them serviced by us, we’ll service them for a fee.”
Changes were also implemented last year at Gilbert to address safety concerns where students were being picked up or dropped off by school buses, which previously used to be at the front entrance.
“It was just a logjam over there in the morning,” Jayne said. “It was very unsafe to let kids out in that way, so I put the bus run in the back of the school, on the north end, and it … totally eliminates traffic” congestion issues.
In addition, a security system requiring visitors to “buzz-in” was installed last year at Gilbert, while more energy efficient doors will be put in this year at all three schools’ main entrances. Meanwhile this summer, more efficient toilets will replace those currently at the elementary schools.
“They’re very old, and we’re going from a 4-gallon flush to a 1.5-gallon flush on those, so we’re going to save money right there in efficiency,” Jayne said.
Resurfacing the track at the middle-high school is also scheduled to begin this summer, as the building’s indoor wooden gymnasium bleachers will be replaced with new plastic ones as well.
Meanwhile, the district has partnered with Forsyth Township on an application to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources for a Recreation Passport grant that would help resurface the four tennis courts at the middle-high school.
The grant could provide $75,000 for the project, Jayne said, which is estimated to cost a total of about $125,000.
“We’re going to do it regardless, but that will help us save two-thirds of the cost, and then we’re partnering with our community too, because we want the community to use our track and our tennis courts and such,” he added.
After all the work is completed in 2018, Jayne said the district might have around $400,000 left over from the bond financing. That money, he said, could be put toward any additional aesthetic or energy efficiency needs, possibly updating the athletic field’s press box and concession stand, or even beginning a new purchasing cycle for technology devices in the classrooms.
“Your technology life, generally, for your student devices and teachers is five years,” he said. “So if there’s some left over, maybe we can already start replacing them in year five before it runs out.”
Jayne said a lot of the projects would have had to be done regardless of whether the bond was approved by voters last year, and if it didn’t pass, the money would have come from the general fund and likely would have resulted in “large cuts” to programs.
“I think we’re keeping our promise to the community that our priorities are security and trying to make ourselves more energy efficient, saving money, and then also improving all of our facilities so the community then can be part of it,” he said. “We want the community to come and use the facilities, and it’s our job to upgrade them for them so they’re safe too.”
Ryan Jarvi can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 270. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.