At a December board of education meeting, Bloomfield Hills Schools officials reviewed and considered realigning the school configuration for its elementary and middle schools to better support student learning, as well as potentially launching a $175 million to $185 million bond proposal to update building configurations and improve infrastructure, as well as other needed improvements.
Brian Goby, director of physical plant services for the district, and Andy Gignac, West Hills Middle School assistant principal, presented findings of the Scope and Design committee at the December 19 board meeting. Goby said they had been guided by the 2019 strategic plan to work to “Ensure safe and secure facilities; Support students' learning and engagement with state of the art facilities, technology and materials; expand availability and community use of district facilities.”
Goby said they are very aware that “Our K-8 materials are aging and need attention.”
A year ago, the committee came up with $33 million in critical needs. “We could manage that decline with sinking fund dollars we have,” Goby said. “Managing a decline is not something you want to be proud of, but we have the ability to do that. When we get to the end of that sinking fund, then now what?”
He said they were instructed by the board to pursue a $120 million to $190 million “A Brighter Future Ahead” effort that would look at building configurations, “knowing our cohort sizes at our middle schools were really getting too small.”
Educators, staff, current, former and future parents worked together to look at various options and to provide feedback on options.
Gignac said their first topic was to dig into safety and security in the schools, and then they shifted to the bulk of their work, building configurations. Currently Bloomfield Hills middle schools hold grades 4-8.
“I'm really focusing on the middle school level, the programming that goes into course selection, electives kids are participating in,” Gignac said. “When you get into cohorts with West Hills and East Hills, they only have one feeder elementary school, with cohort sizes of 116 – 116 is our sixth grade at West Hills. So when you look at building our seventh grade orchestra next year, courses they're going to select, we're ending up with courses that are really small. That was a big part of our discussions.”
The group visited the former Lahser High School site as part of their research, and Gignac said, “the wheels were turning and people were saying, wow, this is a great asset.”
Enrollment projections show the district will maintain their current enrollment level for the next 10 to 15 years, allowing them to make recommendations. Gignac said they repeatedly heard that stakeholders liked the idea of two middle schools, and they loved assets at Lahser.
“We worked to develop a model that has come to be known as the north/south model, that utilizes the Lahser site in the north and the Bloomfield Hills Middle School site in the south...within 15 minutes people were like, what's the next step,” he said.
They recommended to the board to move a plan forward to proceed with a bond initiative for two middle schools for the district, for 6-8 grades, at Lahser and Bloomfield Hills Middle School.
The district woud have four K-5 elementary schools, which would be at Way, with additions and renovations; Conant, with additions and major renovations; the Lone Pine building would close and students would move to West Hills, where it would be called Lone Pine, but have safety, security and classroom renovations and upgrades; and Eastover students would similarly move to East Hills Middle School and utilize that building with renovations and upgrades, while remaining as Eastover.
There would be 550 to 560 students in each elementary school following the renovations and moves.
“This solves the cohort issues,” Gignac said. “When an elementary is about 550 students, it allows about four (classrooms) per grade.”
The proposed bond initiative would also include additional preschool space and renovations, which would add space at Conant and utilize Eastover rather than Fox Hills, which he said needs a lot of work, but has better access to I-75.
Goby said cost estimates for all of the changes and work are in the range of $175 million to $185 million, and currently the drawings are very preliminary. It would include the $33 million in critical needs.
Board members were very responsive to the presentation, recognizing the need for the next step to go deeper into costs, working drafts, and a draft of construction timelines and transition plans. Some board members were supportive of putting a bond proposal before the public in May, while others recommended not rushing, as there is a primary election in August as well as a general election in November 2020.
“As your facilities manager, if we get this passed in November, we're fine,” Goby said. “If it gets passed then and the economy changes, we're in trouble. I've been putting duct tape on these buildings for 13 years.”
“It's a lot of money, but it's an investment in our children and our community,” said Gignac.”