During next Tuesday’s election, Lowell voters will be faced with a single question: should a $52 million bond be approved to make school improvements?
The bond proposal is the result of an ongoing planning process that has included a facility needs assessment completed in 2011 and a series of community meetings held last fall. The resulting proposal calls for voters to approve a $52,095,000 bond that will be used to fund a major renovation to Lowell Middle School as well as enhancements at other buildings and technology upgrades.
While the bond proposal will extend the district’s debt repayments by an additional seven years, it will not increase the millage rate for area residents. On its website, Lowell Area Schools notes, “Without the bond funds, the district would have to shift general fund dollars from precious programs and extra-curricular opportunities to address necessary infrastructure repairs.”
However, it will be up to voters to decide whether the school district gets access to the money it says it needs. All registered voters who reside within the Lowell Area Schools district will be able to cast a vote on the issue in next week’s May 7 election.
No Millage Increase Proposed
District officials have stressed that the bond is needed to address deficiencies in current infrastructure. “This is needs-based,” Greg Pratt, superintendent of Lowell Area Schools, told a crowd of parents last fall during a community forum. “It’s not wants.”
Pratt says he doesn’t want to raise property taxes in order to make needed updates to district buildings either. Instead the $52 million bond proposal will roll in current debt and extend the repayment term while keeping the millage rate the same.
Currently, property owners within the Lowell school district pay 7 mills to pay for previous bonds taken out by Lowell Area Schools. Under the new proposal, property owners would continue to pay 7 mills for debt retirement, but the repayment period would be extended an additional 7 years past the current end date.
Pratt told parents last fall that the district is looking to make the best use of money possible. For instance, some people have asked why the district is renovating the aging middle school rather than building from scratch. Pratt notes that by renovating the existing structure, the district can have a middle school that looks and feels new for $34 million while a brand new building would cost at least $60 million. “I think there are some really good bones here,” he says.
Renovations Planned Across District
The bond proposal also includes renovations for almost all the district buildings. Alto Elementary – currently the district’s largest elementary school with approximately 500 students – is in line for a $3.8 million addition that would add classrooms, a collaboration area and enhanced security. It would also enclose three open classrooms.
Updates to other buildings will include:
- New mechanical systems at Alto and Bushnell Elementary Schools
- New roofing and exterior doors at Cherry Creek Elementary School
- New lighting control and parent drop-off lane at Murray Lake Elementary School
- Improvements to a North Athletic Complex at Lowell High School
However, the most significant plans are for Lowell Middle School. The school will receive a complete renovation if the bond proposal passes. While the central interior section will remain, the front wing will come off to create a new entrance with two drop-off lanes facing Foreman.
“It used to be 50-60 parents would drop off their kids,” Pratt says. “Now, 140 parents drop off.” That has created back-ups to Lincoln Lake in the past, and the school adjusted its drop-off procedures this year to alleviate some of the congestion. However, the renovation would completely change the drop-off process.
At the rear of the building, a two-story addition would be added to create three learning communities and locker commons with clear lines of vision for teachers to monitor students as they rotate between classes. There would also be a new kitchen and cafeteria as well as larger classrooms with more natural daylight. Pratt notes that research indicates test scores rise 15-20 percent when students are exposed to more daylight.
The middle school renovation would be completed in two phases so students would not have to be relocated to another building during construction. Once done, the building would be expected to hold up 1,100 students to accommodate future growth.
All these plans hinge on voter approval of the $52 million bond though. Polls will open from 7am-8pm on Tuesday, May 7, and you can vote at your normal precinct location.