Aging facilities pose safety risks for Farwell students

January 31, 2019

By Pat Maurer
Correspondent

Farwell Superintendent Steven Scoville expressed his concern this week over some of the questions raised about the need for the funds that would be raised in

Superintendent Scoville shows a few of the over 30-year-old boilers in the Elementary building.

Superintendent Scoville shows a few of the over 30-year-old boilers in the Elementary building.

the May 7 bond issue.

He said, “The fate of Farwell Area Schools may be decided by local voters through the upcoming FAS bond referendum ballot initiative.”

The proposal that will be on the ballot for Farwell School District voters in May is a proposal to renew the existing annual millage rate for repayment of the district bonds which are set to expire, an annual rate of 2.37 mills and to include a one mill increase for the next 25 years.

Scoville said, “For the average home owner ($80,000 market value) living in the school district, that equates to [an increase in taxes of] $6.67 per month or just $.22 a day above the 2018 millage rate.”

He added, “That revenue could make or break it for the school district.”

The ceiling in part of the Elementary would be raised to the correct height. Superintendent Scoville is shown here touching the low ceiling.

The ceiling in part of the Elementary would be raised to the correct height. Superintendent Scoville is shown here touching the low ceiling.

Voter approval would raise approximately $24.5 million dollars which would be used for renovation of the Elementary building and pay for much needed renovations and improvements to all of the district buildings.  A fund utilization summary of the lengthy document presented to the board said that 81 percent of the funds raised through the sale of bonds would be used on the Elementary; 62 percent on the Middle School; and 86 percent on the High School.

At a special January meeting of the Board of Education, Scoville said current repairs to the buildings are costing the district enormous amounts, “We will use the bond funds to replace boilers and roofs or [without the bond approval] we will be forced to use education funds to make repairs.”

In a press release this week, Scoville used the elementary school heating system as one example of the critical needs the bond would support.  He explained that the elementary building currently operates on 11 small boilers with an average age of more than 32 years, well beyond the 20-year life cycle of the units.  “A school this size should have two large efficient boilers,” he said.

According to the Superintendent, these boilers are highly inefficient and parts for repairs are expensive and difficult to find.  “In fact,” he said, “the district was

The oldest Elementary wing which would be demolished with the area used for added parking and bus safety. Six new classrooms would be added in a new wing.

The oldest Elementary wing which would be demolished with the area used for added parking and bus safety. Six new classrooms would be added in a new wing.

forced to spend nearly $54,722.25 since July, 2018 in emergency repairs to fix boilers that have broken down and left both the elementary and middle schools without heat.”

Tuesday he reported that two of the boilers had failed recently, one on Sunday. “If school hadn’t been cancelled because of the extreme weather, we may have had to cancel because of the heating problem,” he said.

“To replace just one boiler in the elementary school, the district would be looking at a $60,000 cost. That’s the equivalent of the cost of one teacher. So, if all the boilers failed tomorrow we’d have to eliminate what would equate to 8 teachers in the budget to have enough money to replace boilers,” Scoville said.

Another example Scoville offered was the leaking elementary and middle school roofs that have caused water damage to the buildings.  The roofs, which are now beyond repair, would cost nearly $550,000 to replace.  He noted that this was the equivalent of another 9 teachers’ salaries in a school district with only 63 teachers in total.

Adding safety features like secure entrances to all buildings is an important part of the plans.

Adding safety features like secure entrances to all buildings is an important part of the plans.

“I commend our school staff and past school leaders who, while weathering an unprecedented financial crisis that began with the 2008 recession and continued with years of state funding reductions, continued to prioritize funding for the classroom and found every way possible to make do without much needed capital improvements to our buildings and systems,” said Scoville. “They’ve done a tremendous, almost unbelievable job, but for the health and safety of our students this work cannot be put off any longer.”

Farwell’s budget problems are not unique in the state. A new report from Michigan State University (https://msutoday.msu.edu/news/2019/michigan-schools-face-nations-worst-decline-in-state-education-funding/) found that funding for Michigan’s public schools has fallen more sharply than any other state over the past quarter century.  When adjusted for inflation, total revenue for Michigan schools declined by 30 percent since 2002.  This report uses the average funding for schools in the State of Michigan.

“Farwell Schools are funded at the State’s lowest level making these numbers even more extreme,”  Scoville explained. “If the bond request is not approved by the voters and the millage rate falls to zero, the only options to fund these major emergency repairs is by making cuts to the general fund or tapping into the district’s minimal rainy-day fund, which could in turn trigger state financial oversight.  There is no other plan or mechanism for funding long-term capital needs.”

Other needs of the district in addition to replacing the aging boilers and roofs, which would be addressed with the bond funds, are:

Cracked tiles and aging rooms are some of the many problems needing repair in many areas of the Elementary building.

Cracked tiles and aging rooms are some of the many problems needing repair in many areas of the Elementary building.

*Securing all school entrances with design and technology upgrades;

*Improving traffic flow and congestion at the schools by separating busses, cars and pedestrians;

*Installing a new fire alarm system at the elementary school;

*Adding new preschool and daycare classrooms by demolishing the oldest wing and replacing it with a new wing of six classrooms, freeing up the former wing’s area for parking and a separated bus area for loading and unloading students;

*Repair and resurfacing the athletic field track “to ensure safety qualifications and be able to ensure safety qualifications to continue athletic competitions are met;”

*Technology installations and upgrades in “educational spaces.”

Scoville noted, “The bond will also provide for systems efficiencies saving the district $90,000 annually from current operating costs and will fund a long-term maintenance and capital improvements program to prevent the district from facing a similar crisis down the road.”

He said, “The referendum is structured to minimize the impact on taxes to the greatest extent possible. The millage rate will be at 3.37 mills for the first eight years and will decline every year until the bond ends. The estimated simple average annual millage to retire this bond is 2.96 mills. That is very close to the average rate for the schools in our area.”

Scoville said people interested in learning more about the May bond proposal are invited to attend one of the upcoming information sessions. They will be held at 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, February 5th, at the Farwell United Methodist Church located at 281 East Ohio Street in Farwell. Or, for more information about the proposal, contact Superintendent Scoville at 989-709-4125.

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