Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 18, 2013

Elk Rapids school renovations, security on ballot

By MICHELLE MERLIN mmerlin@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — ELK RAPIDS — Elk Rapids school administrators are asking voters to approve up to $10.88 million in tax bonds that would be used to upgrade athletic facilities and increase security in all the schools.

The 0.83 mills is estimated to cost taxpayers $83 a year on a home with a taxable value of $100,000.

“In general, school complexes and facilities are made to last 40 to 50 years, and then you have to either have some pretty significant renovation in terms of retrofitting, with everything from data wiring to lighting and you name it, and so we’re at a point now where this building and this gym is 43, 44 years old and we’re in that critical window where we have to do something,” said Elk Rapids High School principal Michael Travis.

The majority of the project costs — an estimated $6.9 million — would go to building a new high school gymnasium, weight room and wrestling/multipurpose room, as well as updating the music room, counseling, and online education areas.

All of the plans and cost estimates are tentative, and the project needs a majority of votes in the Nov. 5 election to move forward. The renovations, if approved, are slated to be completed by the fall of 2015.

The project would bring the Elk Rapids debt millage to a total of 2.31, well below a state average of 4.63.

The new gymnasium would enable multiple teams to hold practices at once, eliminating competition among teams for the same practice times. As it is now, teams from the elementary school on up schedule practices all evening long, sometimes going past 9 p.m.

“What makes the most sense for us, with 20 sports and over 30 teams, so that we can keep the focus on academics?” Travis said. “We need to have more practice facility space so our kids aren’t practicing until 10 o’clock at night, which impacts their study time, it impacts their sleep time, and overall it will be a better experience for them.”

Sometimes as many as six teams practice in one night, and administrators estimate that 65 percent of students are involved in athletics.

The gym was last updated in the 1970s, when an Elk Rapids graduating class was 55, compared to today’s 100 graduates. The gym’s low ceiling hinders volleyball games, making balls that hit the ceiling “out” while in other gyms they’d be fair game.

The school is unable to host tournaments because with the bleachers out, there’s only enough room for one game to be played at any time.

“I think that the gym is just not as modern as most other gyms,” said Elk Rapids senior and basketball player Rachel Hintz. “It’s not as high and it causes problems, especially with the volleyball team, but with basketball as well. The lighting is a little off and it sometimes can be hard, especially with free throws.”

The ballot measure includes funding for a wrestling or multipurpose room that would replace the existing converted classroom where the team practices now. A converted classroom is also used as a weight room.

Nearly $700,000 of the bond would go toward making improvements on the soccer and football fields. The money would help build a concession stand, permanent restrooms, and better field drainage.

Another estimated $1.5 million would go to increasing security at the Elk Rapids schools. After the Sandy Hook shootings, in which 20 school children were killed, administrators at Elk Rapids wanted to make their buildings more secure. The additional funds would allow them to update security cameras at every entrance and put in a buzzer system at each front door so entrants would have to be admitted individually during the day.

The remaining $1.8 million of the bond has been earmarked for parking, paving and storm retention at the high school.