LAPEER — It’s taken a number of public forums, meetings, tweaks and overhauls, but Lapeer Community Schools administrators have finalized their district restructure plan.
Dubbed “2020 Vision,” the district’s restructure plan comes as a result of a desire to maximize the district’s efficiency in the face of falling student population. During a special convening of the Lapeer Board of Education on Wednesday, Superintendent Matt Wandrie presented the final plan that will see the closing of three buildings while comprehensively overhauling the district’s remaining facilities by August 2022.
The LCS Board of Education is expected to make a final decision, including setting the amount the district will seek in a bond that will be voted on by district residents later this year, during the Board’s regular meeting March 6.
The proposed district structure will see Mayfield, Murphy and Lynch Elementary Schools closed and listed for sale. Turrill Elementary will become home to Early-5 and Kindergarten students, while the East Campus, current home to the district’s high school, will become Lapeer Elementary, housing grades 1-4. Rolland-Warner will house grades 5-6, Zemmer will house grades 7-8, and a completely rebuilt West Campus, currently the location of the district’s Center for Innovation, will become the home of the new Lapeer High School, housing grades 9-12. The auxiliary gymnasium will remain, but the rest of the proposed new high school will be new construction.
The district’s alternative education facility, Lapeer Community High School, as well as the district’s Virtual Learning program, will be relocated to Schickler. The administration building, homeschool partnership currently housed at Cramton and Maple Grove, which is home to services from Community Mental Health, will remain unchanged.
Wandrie presented the Board a range of estimated bond proposal costs, broken down by priority. If the Board opts to fund all renovations and improvements put forth in the current plan, the cost of a bond is expected to be $102.5 million, and a “bare-bones” proposal, which funds only what the plan calls for as essential, would cost $97.7 million.
Another option, which aimed to reduce the amount below a previously requested bar, would cut a further $7.9 million from that plan, lowering the cost to $89.8 million. The original estimate put forth by consulting firm Barton Malow set the cost of a restructure at approximately $126 million. As an example of the cost incurred by district residents if the bond is approved by voters, Wandrie said at a $100-million bond over a term of 24 years and 3.5 months, the cost to the average homeowner would equate to $14.83 per month.
The vast majority of the project’s cost, if the bond passes in November, would be devoted to the “full-scale renovation” of the West Campus, which is earmarked for $77.2 million. Other major expenditures include major renovations at the East Campus expected to cost $8.1 million and a $6.8 million improvement of the district’s bus garage that would see a parking lot reconstruction, new bus purchases and facility upgrades.
Currently, Lapeer Community Schools holds a 2.8 total levy in mills, the result of a bond in 2007 that among other projects facilitated the combination of the district’s two high schools into what is now Lapeer High School, and Wandrie said that even with a new bond adding to that number, Lapeer’s total levy in mills would still be smaller than surrounding districts such as Oxford’s 7.9 or Brandon’s 12.2.
After the Board approves or rejects the resolution March 6 that would see a solidified bond number chosen to present to voters in November, Wandrie said the real “campaign” begins, leading up to the vote scheduled for Nov. 5. If the bond proposal passes, a three-year transition planning period begins, with transition to be completed, and the new configuration in place, August of 2022.
Leading up to Wednesday’s presentation to the Board, Wandrie held several informational meetings with a number of stakeholder groups in the district, including staff, students, community organizations and parents, each providing their input that informed the presented configuration. “I think it’s really important to do that, get as much input as we can,” he said. Wandrie estimated that since the restructure planning was announced early this autumn, he’s met with 600 people. “We were just trying to throw out ideas, see what gains traction, what gets pushback,” he said.
During the presentation, Wandrie noted that the proposed configuration of the district went through a number of changes due directly to public input, including abandoning plans for a “community center” within the new high school project that would see area businesses and organizations housed in a common area on campus. “The final proposal doesn’t have that language in it, we didn’t get the support on that that we anticipated,” said Wandrie. “We did however hear a lot of support from local business to use the facility afterhours and on the weekends for training or project-based learning with our kids.” Wandrie said “a number of people” also expressed safety concerns related to a “community center,” and ultimately, those plans were omitted. “I think we’re a few steps away from having a facility like that,” he said.
Between Wednesday’s meeting and when next the Board will convene March 6, they’ll be parsing through the over 250-line item proposal provided to them by Wandrie and his administrative team, breaking down every dollar of expected cost. “We’re very proud that we’ve got this thing down to a manageable number,” said Wandrie. In comparison to the bond proposal passed by voters in 2007, the number is actually smaller, he said. “It’s not out of line, and still significantly less, than our neighbors,” he said.
According to Wandrie, the proposal exemplifies his team’s ethos of “doing more with less,” something they’ve tackled for the past eight years. “All the data indicates this district is on the rise, and we’re financially stable and providing more and better programming for the kids, which is the ultimate goal,” he said. “It’s a very ambitious plan, but it demonstrates fiscal responsibility, and we have to spend money to do that.”
Wandrie said that if the bond were to fail, it wouldn’t change the fact the district is losing students, and it won’t stop the district’s current facilities from continuing to age. “We are going to close buildings regardless of what the Board or voters decide, we will not require 13 buildings to manage 4,000 students,” he said. “It would be a very slow bleed over the next 8-10 years and we’d be proposing to cut programs, that’s just the cost of doing business.”
According to LCS Board President Michael Keller, the proposal will position the district to be financially healthy and streamlined for the foreseeable future. “I’ve been around here a long time and there hasn’t been one year where we could say ‘hey look, we have some money,’” he said. “Every year we have to figure out how to get through, and (it’s important to remember) that closing isn’t going to ‘free up money,’ it doesn’t work that way.” The proposal, he said, is “a strategy to get us a bright future,” and Keller said that the district’s already trending upward. “It’s hard to turn that ship around but you see what’s going on around here with our scores, they’re climbing at a rate higher than other communities — all of these things are coming together and this is what we need, this is what’s next.”