Archive for Thursday, December 30, 2004

Bond issue deserves support

December 30, 2004

As we approach the new year, our citizens need to carefully consider the proposal and bond issue associated with the commitment of our city to the education and well-being of our children. An April 2005 bond election will occur, at which time the citizens should overwhelmingly approve the bond issue being proposed for our schools. Our children deserve better than they currently have, and in the interest of attracting and retaining quality teachers as well as new businesses or industry to Lansing, approving the bond is a must!

Beginning in January 2004, a citizens committee carefully assessed the status of our Lansing schools and the historical information available on the schools. We received information on curriculum requirements and teaching methodologies of today, and obtained information on the latest design trends. This committee was open to the public, and many in the community served and provided their input and ideas either at the meetings or via the Web site and surveys, which were circulated to the public. In June, we briefed the school board on the study results. That briefing and accompanying report identified a number of needs for each school and some possible solutions to those needs. The school board acted on those recommendations and adopted a resolution setting the bond election.

Facing facts

The community must face the fact that it is time to address the district's needs, in particular for Lansing Elementary and Lansing High schools. None of these needs can be met with the annual capital outlay funds available to the district. Upgrading the existing structures, bringing them into compliance for health, safety and special needs and repairing outstanding maintenance problems would cost a few million dollars that would not be available without a bond issue. What is needed will cost more, and the citizens must realize the time is now.

For those who have not seen previous articles and information related to this issue, the concerns about our schools are many. Our biggest single concern and need is the current elementary school situation. We have K-5 classes for nearly 800 students distributed among three buildings, none of which are modern or designed for the student body size and today's curriculum needs. We are at or over capacity in two of the three buildings that are 1960s/1970s vintage and require significant structural and infrastructure upgrades (electrical, plumbing, heat/AC, restrooms), some of which are not cost effective to undertake in buildings of this age and construction style. The elementary gyms, cafeterias and libraries and many of the K-3 classrooms are small and no longer serve the physical or educational needs of the students. Students have to transit from one building to another in bad weather to go to the library, music class or other activities. The three buildings are also not easily securable or controllable in time of emergency. The dispersion of the buildings spreads the students too far apart to take advantage of modern mentoring concepts and teacher cooperative planning and teaching.

The single campus shared by our high school and elementary creates an overcrowded and unsafe situation. Mixing of the two age spans is not desirable. Traffic and congestion, combined with a lack of multiple routes in and out of the campus, compounds the problem. The campus area is just large enough for a high school but now also has the elementary compressed onto it, taking away valuable space for parking, expansion, extra-curricular space, vocational education, etc. The high school has inadequate band room, auditorium and gymnasium space and is in need of additional space for updated methods classes in the sciences. The high school is at capacity now, already using some temporary buildings.

The school is also now a 5A school and needs upgrades to be able to provide appropriate 5A educational and sporting venues. The school is 20 years old and requires some additional upgrades and remodeling to keep it a viable school for years to come.

Both the high school and elementary school could use upgrades to assure air quality and meet OSHA standards and better accommodate handicapped and special-needs students. The buildings need energy saving upgrades in lighting, windows, heating and air conditioning and other aspects. The list goes on and on.

We must make one thing perfectly clear, however - no one is to blame. The district has made do with existing facilities. In more than 30 or 40 years, buildings age beyond what can be kept up with normal maintenance. Times and needs change, and what was a good size for a classroom and a good school layout long ago is no longer good enough.

Combatting rumors

Negative rumors have floated around for years that the schools are adequate, and that "they" just want to increase people's taxes and spend to buy the latest and greatest. Being part of the "they" that reviewed our facilities and needs, we can tell you this simply is not the truth. Will a bond issue raise our taxes in Lansing? Undoubtedly it will. How much is yet to be determined. And yet, everyone who has a child or will have a child in the schools or wants to improve this community should vote for the bond issue when the time comes.

Bottom line: Our elementary buildings have outlived their utility, and our children deserve better. Building a K-5 school on a new campus location allows reutilization of the older buildings and possible expansion of the high school while establishing that particular campus as a high school-only location. It allows putting the entire elementary population in one building, with the cost savings of maximizing shared facilities, and allows transition to newer teaching methods; expansion in automation, teaming and shared teaching activities; and better safety for the student population as a whole. The site would allow for future expansion as needed, without further encroachment on other age level schools. Traffic and safety issues would be minimal.

Design and building of a new elementary and upgrading the high school campus for the city's students would signal Lansing's continued commitment to its children and the community and provide additional incentive for expansion and growth of the city and hiring of quality teachers. This development would be undertaken with the long-term growth and development of the city and its schools in mind.

Working together

It is time to put rhetoric aside and work together for the sake of Lansing students and ultimately, the city's future. Just as you sooner or later have to replace the old car, it's time to do some work on our schools. It will be too late when the schools are busting at the seams, or the unsafe high school/elementary campus has caused the injury or death of a child. One of the first things businesses or citizens look at in a new community is its schools - and ours need work. We ask our citizens to vote yes on the bond issue and participate in the design and development of the new schools and the long-range planning our district is doing. The district Web site will post updated information as it becomes available. Monthly school board meetings are also a good way to stay involved.

It is also time for the city, which has received recent acclaim for being forward thinking and progressive, to get on board with the district's efforts and support this effort in three big ways:

¢ Establishing a committee to work with the district on reutilization of existing properties/facilities;

¢ Building Bittersweet Road and bridge to support traffic at the existing Lansing Middle School and the new elementary site; and

¢ Providing positive support for the district's efforts to bring our elementary schools out of the 1970s.

- Ali Zeck and Bernd Ingram are co-chairs of the Lansing Schools Facilities Planning Committee.

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