Traverse City Record-Eagle


May 31, 2012

Possible millage for TC schools

Millions in revenue would go to upgrading facilities

TRAVERSE CITY — Traverse City Area Public Schools could ask voters this fall for millions to upgrade several aging schools and facilities.

The district's board of education will consider a recommendation from its finance committee to approve a bond proposal for the Nov. 6 general election ballot. It would increase the district's existing 3.1-mill bond levy by up to 0.9 mills to help raise $100 million for reconstruction at area elementary schools, including major renovations at Central Grade School and a performing arts center at Central High School.

"Our bond program, our capital planning, has always been a program that required us to go back to taxpayers every so often — in 2001, 2004, 2007," said Paul Soma, TCAPS' chief financial officer. "Had property values not decreased, we probably would have gone back sooner."

The proposal is among three options offered up to the committee by TCAPS' finance office. Another would reauthorize the 18-mill non-homestead millage in 2013 without increasing the existing bond millage. A third would reauthorize the 18 mills in 2013, and increase the bond millage by up to 1 mill in the fall of 2014. Both of those options would further delay reconstruction at area elementary schools, Soma said. Three reconstruction projects authorized in 2007 at Interlochen, Eastern and Montessori at Glenn Loomis elementary schools already were pushed back due to declining property values beginning in 2008.

The plan endorsed by the finance committee would ask voters for up to a 0.9-mill increase this year to the existing 3.1-mill bond levy, and the non-homestead tax would not be reauthorized until 2014. A 0.9-mill increase would cost the owner of a home with a taxable value of $100,000 about $90 per year.

"It's a faster pace, but when you delay this for another three years, challenges start to compound. Our buildings aren't getting any younger," Soma said. "The accumulated depreciation on those old buildings is growing exponentially. We keep trying to put off major projects, but after a while you start to throw good money after the bad. Before you know it, you've put $1 million, $2 million, $3 million into buildings that you're going to tear down."

The proposal would raise approximately $100 million and help pay for reconstruction at Interlochen, Eastern and Montessori at Glenn Loomis elementary schools, estimated at $10 million each. It also would include reconstruction at Central Grade School projected at $26 million, and a new performing arts center at Central High School estimated at $26.5 million. The remaining funds would be used for various projects including maintenance, technology upgrades and buses.

"When the (Central) auditorium was built it was probably state-of-the-art, but not anymore. If you can find a seat without a spring in an uncomfortable spot, you're lucky," said Wendee Wolf-Schlarf, TCAPS' K-12 music coordinator. "But we're really looking at a performing arts center for all of TCAPS that meets needs on a couple of different levels."

Wolf-Schlarf said existing facilities, and the local churches and theatres the schools use for performances, can't accommodate large audiences. School gyms are "not an appropriate place for music to be performed," she said.

The district envisions a new 1,200-seat facility at Central High School campus for use by the district.

"The response from the community has been fantastic as we start to discuss this. It's a can-do attitude, but people still need to be educated as to why this is a need and not a luxury," she said.

If the bond millage were increased by voters this fall, a tentative time line would see ground broken at one elementary school and the performing arts center in June 2013. Work on one or two remaining elementary schools would begin in June 2015, with remaining schools renovated in 2017. Reconstruction at Central Grade School would not begin until 2019.

The finance/operations committee will again review the millage recommendation at its June 6 meeting. The full board will discuss the proposal on June 11 with a possible vote June 25. The deadline to place local proposals on the Nov. 6 ballot is Aug. 14.

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