BENZONIA — The dejection in Matt Olson’s voice wasn’t there like it was the last three times. Instead it was replaced with hope, happiness and relief.
Benzie County Central Schools got the thumbs up from voters on its $39 million bond proposal. Tuesday marked the fourth time the initiative was put before voters after coming up short three times.
Olson, the former Benzie superintendent and current assistant superintendent at Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District, remained involved in the campaign to get the proposal passed after he left the district.
The measure, in different forms, failed three times before garnering enough support from voters Tuesday — narrowly losing by 101 votes in November 2019, then 114 in May of this year and again by a mere 34 votes in August.
Tuesday’s margin of victory, 716 votes, was not nearly as slim.
Voters in Benzie and Grand Traverse counties approved the proposal 4,483 to 3,767, according to unofficial results.
“It feels good knowing we have generational fixes coming and that our kids and community are going to be set up for a long time because of this investment,” Olson said.
The highlight of the 25-year, $39 million proposal is the construction of a new kindergarten through fifth grade elementary school, which will replace Crystal Lake Elementary and be built at the main campus.
Other projects include adding two early education classrooms to Lake Ann Elementary; replacing the roofs at Lake Ann, Betsie Valley and the middle and high schools; upgrading HVAC systems; remodeling the science labs; increasing security measures; building a new bus garage and buying new buses every year for the next decade; and improving technology throughout the district.
Olson said putting the proposal on the ballot for the fourth time in 18 months was about “persistence” and getting the facts to the public.
“We kept getting closer, but we worked to be visible and get out that message that these are needs,” he said. “We changed enough hearts and minds.”
Amiee Erfourth, who took over as superintendent after Olson’s departure, said she was elated to wake up to the news Wednesday.
“Without our community rallying behind that millage, we would really be in trouble,” she said. “I appreciate they were willing to invest in our children and our future.”
Erfourth said many of the projects on the list are “long overdue.” The next steps lie ahead.
Erfourth will meet with architects in two weeks to start planning the timeline and preparing to sell the bonds. She expects to share those plans in a month or so.
“Today, we’re just savoring the moment and celebrating a much-needed victory,” Erfourth said.