We are receiving questions from our constituents regarding the construction of the new football stadium and track at Hamady High School. In an effort to respond to these queries and to allay any fears regarding the project, we have posted the following to our website:
As a public entity, the proposed project was posted to the Flint Journal, the SIGMA Procurement Bid location (a state clearinghouse for all public bids) and the district website. The project was featured in an article in Mlive and in our Spring School Newsletter.
The Westwood Heights Board of Education approved the project, and we currently have all the permits for the work being performed. These include state and county approvals. We are waiting on final approval of the press box plans and then all approvals will be attained. Board of Education meeting minutes, schedules and agendas can be found on the district website.
Our construction company, LA Construction (from Mt. Morris Township) is following all the current laws regarding noise periods. We regret the inconvenience this project is causing, and hope to have most of the heavy grading work completed soon.
It is our understanding that this has been an issue for some time and we are exploring several options to alleviate this problem. This is not a designated wetland, so any work we do there is permitted. The water should be flowing north toward Carpenter Road, but we believe that a storm drain is clogged under the area and we hope to repair this situation. In no way will this project create a bigger problem, and may actually help resolve this long-standing issue. We are going to run cameras through those pipes to determine the problem, and will have more information on this next week. I would also add that we intend to work with the neighbors to the south on a landscaping plan to insure their privacy.
The project cost is a little over $2.7 million. We could have financed it out of our current sinking fund (balance is over $900,000) and our general fund (balance is over $2mm) However, we want to preserve sinking funds for projects on the existing facilities, and want to direct most of our general funds into the direct education of our students. Therefore, we issued $3.150mm of ten-year general obligation bonds to finance the stadium project with approximately $400,000 left over for other capital projects. These bonds received an “A” rating from Standard and Poor’s based upon the district’s strong financial condition, positive outlook, and conservative financial practices. Debt service on the bonds is approximately $300,000 per year.
Our current field is 1.1 miles south of the school, and requires us to bus our players, cheerleaders and band to the field on game nights, including JV and middle school games. This costs approximately $5,000/year. We also spend approximately $35,000 on field maintenance, lining, and upkeep on the bleachers and press box. We will not incur these costs going forward because we are installing a turf field with a 15 year estimated life. These savings will help to cover a portion of the debt service over the next ten years.
Another portion of the debt service will be paid out of fees charged for stadium rental as it will be an attractive venue for youth soccer tournaments, band competitions, and other events.
Finally, a portion will be paid out of general funds. We are forecasting a surplus for next year of close to $200,000 even without any enrollment growth.
We currently have sufficient parking adjacent to the field and on the north side of the building. We intend to help spectators parked on the north side with a shuttle.
The financing effort leaves substantial funds remaining for the maintenance and renovation of other district buildings. We have already approved a new roof for Gillespie Elementary in order to preserve the buildings integrity. We have been approached by charitable institutions with offers to occupy a portion of the building, but have no firm agreement at this time. Our other buildings need HVAC work, asphalt repairs, and other needs. We are currently undergoing a full engineering review of all of our facilities to set up a multi-year maintenance and upgrade plan.
I would also emphasize that our buildings are fully staffed with highly qualified teachers, and that they are given the tools to teach our students. If you survey our teachers they should be able to confirm that they have not been denied any curriculum materials or supplies. With a general fund balance exceeding 15% (the state recommends 10%), we are in a position to fully support our staff. We are switching our high school library over to e-books, which are more popular with older students. We have close to 2000 electronic devices in the district for 1450 students (up from 870 five years ago), and are on the cutting edge in classroom technology. We also were on the leading edge in adding to the security profile in each of our buildings.
We have multiple after-school activities for the students, including Bridges, tutoring, SAT prep, sports, and an after school meal program.
Westwood benefits from these students, most of whom attend the alternative high school. It was through the actions of the previous board, upon the recommendation of former member and long-time community member, John Ribner, and the follow through of Superintendent Salli Stevens, that the Alternative High School was opened. This school serves a valuable purpose assisting students who have fallen behind, offering alternate options for graduating earlier or adults needing their GED or diploma. Without this funding source, our school district would have been in financial distress and could have been taken over by the state. That is not a positive scenario for a community. Our school district wants to be partners with the local community and this would not be the situation under state control. You would see a mass exodus of families and a deteriorating school infrastructure with more empty buildings.
We have probably not answered all your questions, so please feel free to call the superintendent, Peter Toal, at 810-0870 with other questions. Please know that your schools are being run on a conservative financial basis with an eye toward continued improvements to our facilities. We believe that this benefits our students and our residents.