Attention Turns To TCAPS August Ballot Proposal Details
By Craig Manning | Nov. 9, 2017
On the heels of the recent local election, voters’ eyes will next turn toward August, when Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) intends to request a 3.1 millage rate bond. The district’s last successful bond campaign was in 2007; funds from that bond will soon run out.
The bond request would raise an estimated $97 million over a 10-year period to pay for capital projects, including the reconstruction of Glen Loomis Elementary, pegged at approximately $16 million. Other funds will go toward bus replacement; technology upgrades across the district; equipment for visual, performing, and applied arts programs; and basic athletic facility improvements. Anticipated capital infrastructure projects include new STEM and robotics labs at both high schools, the demolition and relocation of a TCAPS storage facility on Fourteenth Street, extensive athletic facility overhauls on both sides of town, and security renovations at numerous schools.
Project details and cost estimates are now the focus within TCAPS administration. The Board of Education will review bond specifics and approve final proposal language in April or May.
TCAPS Associate Superintendent of Finance & Operations Christine Thomas-Hill says the district is looking at anticipated projects in two categories: annual allocations, or areas where funds are needed every year to maintain, update, or upgrade key assets; and capital infrastructure projects, one-off projects that usually come with higher price tags.
Price tags for projects like bus replacement ($1 million per year) and technology upgrades ($2 million per year) are more predictable, Thomas-Hill notes.
“A long time ago, we defined a long-term capital plan to handle depreciation and stuff of that nature,” she says. “Within that plan, you'll see the bus replacement program. TCAPS has 100 school buses, and we have a plan to replace them every 10 or 12 years. For $1 million, we can buy about 10 buses per year, so we have $1 million set aside per year for bus replacement.”
Figuring out the math behind bigger capital infrastructure projects like the new STEM labs is more complex. There is less historical data to consult, and precise price estimates are often impossible without architectural renderings. Thomas-Hill says the district is careful not to spend too many dollars on a project’s scope until there’s an approved bond in place.
“We're cautious about spending money to plan for something that may or may not happen,” she says. “If somebody asks, ‘What's [this project] going to look like?' and we say, ‘We don't know,’ that can be kind of difficult. But there's a reason behind it. It's not financially reasonable to have renderings for every possible project if they might not happen.”
Instead, Thomas-Hill says that the district puts in “plug numbers” to put together bond proposals. By using industry standards for construction or demolition costs, TCAPS can generate ballpark cost estimates based on square footage. So far, that’s how the majority of the anticipated 2018 bond projects have been priced out, including the $16 million for Glenn Loomis and the dollars designated for a new athletic facility at the Coast Guard fields, and for a new athletic fieldhouse at West Senior High.
Other estimates include roughly $200,000 apiece for four local elementary schools -- Blair, Silver Lake, Westwoods, and Courtade -- that all need main office renovations for added safety and security.
Similar but more extensive security renovations are planned for West Middle School, where there is no clear line-of-sight from the main office to the front doors. West Middle School also has three cafeterias, a drain on resources that TCAPS hopes to address by combining them into one larger one.
Thomas-Hill also notes that the bond will also likely set aside money for smaller, yet still essential projects including new roofs, new HVAC systems, flooring replacements, lighting upgrades, new lockers, track resurfacing at East and West Middle Schools, and a renovation to outdated student locker rooms at Central High School.
“We need to plan for the smaller stuff, but people just expect us to do that,” she says. “Those aren’t really exciting things that people want to talk about, but they’re important, so they’re in [the tentative bond proposal].”
Whatever the eventual bond proposal details, Christine Guitar, TCAPS executive director of communications, says taxpayers can take comfort in knowing their property taxes won’t change.
“All the projects we’ve been thinking through, they would all fit within the current 3.1 mills that people pay,” she says. “[Local property owners] would see no increase in their property taxes with this.”