Traverse City News and Events

TCAPS Eyes $180 Million Bond Proposal for August Ballot

By Beth Milligan | Feb. 12, 2024

Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) trustees will consider voting on language tonight (Monday) to put a $180 million bond proposal on the August 6 ballot. TCAPS Superintendent Dr. John VanWagoner says the proposal – which does not include an increase, maintaining the existing 3.1-mill rate – is a “nuts and bolts” bond covering infrastructure and safety upgrades across various school buildings, as well as long-discussed renovations to Central Grade School.

TCAPS has been working for almost a year on a potential bond proposal. The district is expected to sell the last of its 2018 bonds in 2025, after which time it would switch to selling the first of its 2024 bonds, assuming a successful passage this year. When TCAPS last asked for voter approval of a capital bond proposal, it failed in 2012 and 2013 when it sought to increase the millage rate by 0.9 mills before earning resounding voter approval in 2018 when TCAPS kept the mill rate at 3.1 mills, instead asking for approval of a $107 million bond plan.

TCAPS Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations Christine Thomas-Hill previously confirmed that would be the approach again in 2024. “We’re asking voters for an authorization of a dollar amount, not the mills,” she said. Noting that other Michigan districts average a 5.4 millage rate – which can go as high as 15-19 mills in some downstate districts – Thomas-Hill said 3.1 mills was a “good millage rate.” With TCAPS also having to seek the renewal of its 10-year operating millage in 2024, Thomas-Hill previously said one proposal would likely go on the August ballot and the other on the November ballot.

As part of pre-bond planning, trustees used programming assessments in which staff, students, and other facility users identified needs for their spaces. TCAPS received over 2,000 survey responses, including from 1,127 parents/community members, 580 students, 147 facility users, and 317 employees. The district also commissioned professional condition assessments of TCAPS buildings, which listed needed repairs according to three priority levels. Trustees agreed that the bond should cover the renovation/reconstruction of Central Grade School, as well as priority one and two projects addressing aging infrastructure across multiple schools (such as roofs, boilers, septic systems, storm water drainage, and hot water heaters). Additional work could include things like lighting, controls and switches, windows, restrooms, sidewalks, lockers, and flooring.

The legal language on bond proposals covers a wide range of allowed uses. The TCAPS proposal will ask voters to approve the issuance of up to $180 million in bonds for the following: “erecting, furnishing, and equipping additions to and/or remodeling, furnishing and refurnishing, and equipping and re-equipping existing school facilities; erecting, furnishing, and equipping new school facilities; constructing, equipping, developing, and improving playgrounds and outdoor physical education, athletic, and storage facilities; acquiring, installing, and equipping and re-equipping school facilities for educational technology; purchasing school buses; and acquiring, developing, and improving playgrounds, play fields, athletic fields, and sites.”

At a recent finance/operations committee meeting, Thomas-Hill explained that that legal language is designed to give school districts flexibility and allow them to cover a range of needed improvements and emergency situations that could arise in the future. However, TCAPS will have a marketing campaign detailing how funds from the bond are intended to be spent, with that campaign to be discussed at tonight’s board meeting, Thomas-Hill said.

VanWagoner confirms that addressing Central Grade School will be a key project under the bond. “In our survey results, people said they would like us to look at renovating the existing structure and make it a twenty-first learning environment for our kids,” he tells The Ticker. Noting that the third floor of Central Grade has been shut down since the 1970s, VanWagoner said the project could involve right-sizing the building for modern operational needs. “It may not be (renovating) the whole building,” he says. “That’ll be decided in the design process. It’ll be built for the scope of the size of the kids there today.”

Central Grade is part of a series of dominoes of connected TCAPS building projects. The district has a pending deal to sell its Administration Building on Webster Street, then will relocate its printing department to the Sabin Data Center on Cass Road and its administrative offices and boardroom for TCAPS board meetings to the former Glenn Loomis on Oak Street. Trustees recently approved $52,500 in technology upgrades at Glenn Loomis, including network infrastructure and cabling, lockdown switches and a secure entrance for the vestibule, and microphones, cameras, and other equipment to upgrade the boardroom. Those upgrades will not only accommodate the upcoming staff move, but also Central Grade students when they eventually temporarily move to Glenn Loomis while Central Grade is under construction.

At least one major publicly discussed project will not be included in the bond proposal. Community groups had proposed putting two new fieldhouses in at TC West and TC Central high schools, which could provide dedicated turf and courts for year-round tournaments, practices, and league play for both TCAPS and community use. Estimates last year put those fieldhouses at approximately $10 million each, or $20 million total. With so many other pressing building repairs and renovations to address, VanWagoner says the fieldhouses aren’t in this bond proposal – but that doesn’t mean they’re off the table entirely. “We’re looking at different alternatives and fundraising sources to potentially do that in the future,” he says.

Trustees are being asked to review and approve the proposed bond language tonight for inclusion on the August 6 ballot ahead of a May 14 deadline – the date by which information must be submitted to county election coordinators, according to Thomas-Hill.

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