Constantine lays out new school bond proposal
CONSTANTINE — Five months after a school bond proposal failed in Constantine by 15 percentage points, school district officials will try again next week.
On the Tuesday, May 3 ballot, voters in the Constantine Public Schools district will be voting on whether or not to approve a new school bond proposal, which would increase the district’s millage rate by 0.2 mills from the current rate of 6.8 mills to fund improvement projects on each of its buildings, most notably Eastside Elementary.
The bond is projected to generate $38.8 million, with the increase to the current tax rate anticipated to extend for eight years, until December of 2030. The new bond would be fully expired in 2052. The amount to be generated is less than the $45.6 million over 21 years they brought before the voters in November 2021.
Polls will be open on May 3 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. The Constantine Public Schools district consists of Constantine Township, Fabius Township, Florence Township and Mottville Township in St. Joseph County, as well as Mason Township, Newberg Township and Porter Township in Cass County.
Superintendent Jim Wiseley said in an interview Monday the reason the district is going for a bond so soon after has to do with the timing of when the current bond for the new high school is falling off, which he said is “right now.”
“Knowing how difficult it is to pass a bond in Constantine, now makes the most sense,” Wiseley said. “If the bond doesn't pass in the spring, we're going to have to rethink how we do things and how we pay for things.”
Like their last proposal, the biggest portion of the bond proposal would occur at Eastside Elementary School. According to the plans, the building would be expanded to house all Pre-K through fifth grade students in the district, construct a new two-story addition while doing a partial demolition of one part of the existing building and a renovation on another part, construct an expanded separate drop-off for parents and buses, expand their gymnasium and cafeteria, and have dedicated specialty classroom space for art, music and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) classes.
With the plan to consolidate the elementaries, it would also bring about the demolition of Riverside Elementary, which the proposal lays out would lead to the creation of an expanded area for future campus development.
“Riverside, the other elementary, is coming to the end of its usefulness. We could put a whole lot of money into it, but that would just get it up to date, not something that's going to last for the next five, 10, 20 years,” Wiseley said. “So, the majority goes to the elementary schools.”
The estimated cost to do the upgrades, construction and renovation to Eastside is $26.8 million, 69 percent of the total funds projected to be generated with the bond. Demolition is expected to cost $300,000.
Along with the work on the elementaries, there are some projects in the plans for Constantine Middle School and Constantine High School if the bond proposal passes. Both would get roof and flooring replacements, while some exterior fascia would be replaced at the middle school and a new asphalt drive and parking lot on the west side of the high school would be done. The estimated cost of the middle school and high school improvements is $5.1 million and $3.1 million, respectively.
Wiseley said having the new roofs is a small but significant aspect to the bond proposal.
“Infrastructurally, there are about $3 million worth of repairs that need to be done on our roofs, so how do we pay for those?” Wiseley said. “The state doesn't give funding for infrastructure; it gives it for staffing and curriculum. This is the perfect time to save our stakeholders money.”
All educational facilities in the district would get air conditioning systems as part of the bond proposal, while the middle school and high school would also get renovated classrooms for STEM education. At Constantine Tech High School, replacement of exterior doors and upgrades to the door access control system are planned projects if the bond passes, expected to cost around $36,000.
One significant change from the previous bond proposal is the elimination of all but one proposed project for athletic facilities. Gone are the upgrades and renovations to Sweetland Stadium and multiple scoreboard upgrades, however the construction of a new concession stand and restroom facility at Sweetland remains.
Wiseley said the slashing of most of the athletic projects was part of what the district learned from the previous bond attempt.
“We went back to our stakeholders and held surveys and community meetings. We took out the lowest-priority items, which had to do with athletics and lighting upgrades,” Wiseley said, adding that the concession stand and bathrooms are still a need for the district. “Our concession stand is really old, and the only bathrooms in the stadium are in our fitness center.”
Wiseley said the tax logistics of the bond mean that a house with $100,000 market value with a taxable value of $50,000 would only see their taxes go up by $10 per year if the bond proposal passes. A $200,000 market value would therefore see taxes go up by $20 per year.
Wiseley’s reasoning for why voters should pass the bond proposal on May 3 is because the community “is only as good as its school,” and vice versa.
“The better condition the school is, the more stable the value of land and houses are going to be. If you have a good school district, the value of that land is going to increase,” Wiseley said. “We're very fortunate Constantine Public Schools is an amazing school district. We have a large number of students who come to our district from other areas, and in order to be stable in our property value, and even increase that property value, the better the school system is, the higher the property value.”
Monday, the district held an open house at Eastside Elementary to give community members a visual of what conditions were in the existing building, how conditions would be improved if the bond passes, and how the proposed addition would be laid out. Different stations were set up around the elementary school’s campus highlighting a different aspect of Eastside’s potential renovation. Food was provided, and staff members gave tours of different parts of the existing building.
Wiseley said the open house was designed to help give the community a sense of what would be done if the bond passes.
“As we've learned from the last bond when we tried to pass that, we held a lot of in-person meetings where we talked about what we wanted to do. This open house was a way to show people why we needed to do it,” Wiseley said. “They can see the cafeteria, they can see the transportation loop where there's no room out there, they can see where the new addition is going to go, they can see there's a lot of land back here that we won't be overflowing into the subdivision. It was just a way to give a visual representation of what we're trying to accomplish.”
Overall, Wiseley hopes residents will be able to pass the millage this time around.
“We've done our due diligence in communicating with stakeholders, we've tried different ways to communicate with people, so our hope is that on May 3 they vote yes,” Wiseley said.
Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 22 or firstname.lastname@example.org.