IRON MOUNTAIN - When the Iron Mountain School Board started looking over the needs of the district, both now and in the future, they just didn't pull a number out of a hat to put on a bond proposal.
Supt. Tom Jayne explained to residents at a public forum Thursday night that it was a process that started long before he was hired as superintendent.
"It's been an ongoing process that former school boards and administrators have looked at especially in light of the number of students we've lost through declining enrollments," he said.
Tom Jayne, superintendent of Iron Mountain Public Schools, answers questions Thursday about the district’s proposed $11 million bond issue. The biggest portion — $7.5 million — would be to make improvements to the current high school building as well as the vocational and physical education buildings.
Theresa Peterson/Daily News Photo
And the numbers are staggering. In 15 years, the district has lost 500 students and that equates to $3.5 million less in revenue. With this loss of state revenue, the school district has had to dip into its fund equity, once at a healthy $1.6 million and now down to less than $200,000.
After a careful evaluation, the school board had four major areas of concern they felt needed to be addressed poor energy efficiency, inefficient use of space, safety and security concerns and outdated technology, Jayne said.
An assessment of each facility was performed by consultant OHM of Hancock with local architect Mark Blomquist. This was followed by group meetings with a core committee of nearly 50 volunteers to develop solutions and, for the first time, the school district surveyed each student and staff member concerning the status of the existing facilities.
Jayne talked to the residents about just one need that the district has - replacing its inefficient boilers. He explained that the boilers located at Central School provide heat to that school as well as the high school, the industrial arts building, administration building, and high school gym. The heat travels under the ground to the other buildings and loses about 70-80 percent of the heat in that process. Last year, the school district had to spend $100,000 just to replace pipes and repair the boilers to keep them running.
"We are in sort of a bind with this. We can't ignore the inefficiencies we have. I'm afraid that we may not have heat some day. A bond proposal would give us the funds to install a modern boiler system - one in each building. That's a major component to the project with a payback within 10 years on energy costs and a huge savings on maintenance," Jayne said. "There's going to be a day soon that something is going to happen. We've been nursing them (boilers) along for awhile."
Scott McClure of Iron Mountain agreed with Jayne. "That was a fear of mine while I was superintendent. It was my worst nightmare that I'd get a call in the middle of the night telling me that there was no heat."
Jayne said that, in the process, they had also looked at constructing a new building. "But that would have cost more than $18 million. And with the district having 43 percent underutilized space, the direction went to focusing a renovation of the high school and upgrading North Elementary School. During the past 30 years since I graduated from IMHS, we've lost more than 800 students."
The committee, consultants and the board came to the conclusion that going from four to two buildings was a better use of space and district funds. They also agreed that East Elementary could receive some improvements and would remain a wild card for a while as they kept an eye on where the numbers would go for grades 4-6.
"If we don't do anything, we are going to have a depleted school system," Jayne said.
The areas of safety and security were a major concern of the staff. Jayne told the group that a lot of movement goes on during the day at the downtown campus between buildings.
"We need safety and security in order to be able to educate our kids. I'm fearful that someone is going to get hurt walking back and forth to school. I know that $11 million seems high, but at the same time we need to meet the needs of the students and staff in our district. And the fact is that we don't have general fund money to do the things we need to anymore."
The biggest portion of the proposed bond - $7.5 million - would be to make improvements to the current high school building as well as the vocational and physical education buildings. The 76,008 square foot high school was built in 1912, and the last time any updates were made was in 1994.
One of the other top improvements, Jayne said, is to replace the roofs. He pointed to an area of discoloration in the auditorium ceiling where water has been leaking through. He also explained the common sight where buckets are in place at the band room area of the administration building and other areas. This is especially common when there is a heavy rainfall, like on Wednesday.
"We've had continual leaks. The roof is shot and an immediate need of the district," he said.
One resident questioned the usable life of a roof on a school building.
A representative of OHM said that 20 years is the expected life of a roof and the high school is long overdue to be replaced. The newest school in the district, North Elementary, also has a roof that needs to be replaced since it was built in 1994. The addition on Central School was also built in 1994 and needs to have the roof replaced. Only repairs would be made to the East Elementary roof since the district isn't sure how long that will be used.
One of the proposed improvements also deals with creating a school within the high school for the junior high/middle school, which would be on a separate floor. Jayne said they had been discussing that when that happens, the D Floor or the top floor may be the best choice.
A comment from the students surveyed also asked for more restrooms in the high school building. Before the 7-8 grades would move into the building, restrooms would be added to the three floors that currently don't have bathrooms. In addition, there would be separate entrances for high school and middle school students.
McClure said that the core group involved in this process have addressed the concerns that were expressed by parents when the idea to move the 7-8 grades was first proposed during his last year as superintendent.
Although it's just a proposed improvement, the plan is to close the Central School, which was built in 1936. Options include selling it, renting it, or demolishing the building at an estimated cost of $485,000.
Voters in the school district will go to the polls on Aug. 7 and see a bond proposition for school improvements on the ballot. The ballot asks the voters whether the School District of the city of Iron Mountain should borrow the sum of not to exceed $11 million.
The ballot also states that the purpose of the bond is to pay the cost of the following:
- Remodeling, equipping, re-equipping, furnishing and refurnishing school buildings and other facilities.
- Erecting, equipping and furnishing additions to the school buildings.
- Preparing, developing and improving sites at school buildings and other facilities.
- Equipping and re-equipping school buildings and other facilities for technology systems and equipment.
The core committee members explained that the word "addition" in the ballot language does not mean that the district would be adding anything on to one of the buildings. It is technically considered an addition if you change a wall in a project or do something like enclosing a boiler.
"It's a legal term and encompasses any changes to the buildings, like adding a wall," noted Katie Maxon, a committee member.
"We need a sound city and school system to attract people to live in Iron Mountain. We already have a sound academic system. This bond proposal for major remodeling projects is for our kids. They spoke up in the surveys respectfully and didn't ask for anything extravagant. They want a school that is safe and secure, classrooms where 21st century learning goes on and technology that helps them perform to their maximum potential. And that's what we all want for them so they can succeed in the future," Jayne said.
Linda Lobeck's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.