A New School in Dexter?
A bond vote to fund a host of improvements
by Cynthia Furlong Reynolds
From the June, 2017 issue
On August 8, the Dexter Community Schools will ask voters to approve a $71.7 million bond proposal. The money would pay for a new elementary school, a new and more secure entrance for Wylie Elementary, walkways between schools, a new music room at Mill Creek Middle School, new buses, improvements in the Dexter Community Pool locker rooms and the Senior Center, improvements to the athletic fields, and district-wide upgrades for mechanical, security, and electrical systems. This would be the first bond authorization in ten years--and yet approval of the ballot measure won't increase taxes.
"This bond issue addresses critical needs, not wants," explains DCS superintendent Chris Timmis. "Our goal is to maintain the current school tax rate of 8.5 mills while maintaining or improving the quality of our facilities and our programs."
By law, bond proceeds cannot be used for operations expenses or staff salaries. The last bond issue went to the voters in 2008, when Michigan's economy was suffering through a recession and local builders shelved large-scale residential development plans. At that time, the board of education predicted that Dexter's school population had plateaued, so no new facilities were planned. The school district asked for--and received--$47.9 million to fund improvements in transportation and technology and upgrades to mechanical systems, electrical systems, sports programs, and academic facilities.
In the intervening years, the Michigan legislature has required school districts to offer full-day kindergarten. A generous gift also allowed DCS to launch the Jenkins Early Childhood Learning Center, a preschool and "early kindergarten." Meanwhile, several major residential developments are either underway or under consideration in the district. All these changes have more than doubled the space needed to accommodate kindergartners and preschoolers.
"Cornerstone [lower elementary school] is currently stretched far beyond its capability," the superintendent explains. The proposed new school would be a mirror image of Cornerstone, while Bates Elementary would be renovated to accommodate the "Young Fives."
"Right now we have a huge waiting list for the
preschool program, and we're out of space everywhere," Timmis says. "This bond will fund that, as well as between $23 and $30 million for upgrades to aging mechanical and technical systems."
The school district owns 350 contiguous acres on the elementary and middle school campus, and another ninety acres at the high school on Parker Rd. To make way for the new Cornerstone twin, the Mill Creek athletic fields would be moved to the high school.
The plan also calls for new outdoor band practice space on the high school grounds--the band currently competes with sports programs for practice space--and a new band room at Mill Creek. Once it's built, the orchestra will move to the current band room, and the choir will take the orchestra room.
In addition, flexible learning spaces are planned for each school. The DHS Center for Performing Arts will be upgraded, and space will be created for the district's robotics and alternative education programs.
Seniors will also receive their share of attention. The Senior Center rents its facilities at the old Copeland School for $1 a year, and, with no funding source, can't afford to pay more. But "we need to make upgrades there," Timmis says, and the bond will fund them.
"The Dexter community has always been extremely supportive," he adds. "We're not doing anything extravagant with this bond issue. Our goal is to maintain the excellence of schools people here have come to expect--and deserve."
[Originally published in June, 2017.]
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