Will Grass Lake District 36 students get a new school? Voters to decide April 7

The Grass Lake School building is so old, it could qualify for Social Security.

Bah dum dum.

Opened in 1947, the facility at 26177 W. Grass Lake Road near Antioch is the only classroom building for Grass Lake District 36 students.

And after 68 years, administrators and board members think it might be time to replace the building with a modern facility on the same campus.

Superintendent Terry O'Brien envisions a school that is easier for disabled students, staffers and visitors to access, has classrooms tailored for modern teaching methods and uses energy more effectively.

“A 21st century school is designed and built with more efficient use of space (and) supports the individual learning needs of each child,” O'Brien said.

Whether such a school will be built, however, is up to voters.

On April 7, District 36 residents will be asked to approve an $11.6 million school construction project.

Under the plan, officials will borrow about $5.6 million to help pay for the work. The remaining $6 million will come from district savings and money specifically budgeted for this type of work.

Moving forward

Now serving 160 preschoolers through eighth graders, Grass Lake School started as a one-room schoolhouse in the 19th century. After the current school was built in 1947, it was expanded in 1955, 1970 and 1999.

Whereas most school boards contemplate new construction because of rising enrollment, the number of students at Grass Lake has remained static, O'Brien said.

The facility issue today isn't a lack of space but aging infrastructure, board President Gary Jost said.

“The current utilities were installed in (a) concrete slab. There is no basement under (the original) section of the building,” Jost said. “We have noticed that the utilities are starting to fail, and at one point in the near future will fail.”

Additionally, the original school space doesn't meet federal rules for access by people with disabilities, he said.

Officials have been working on plans to improve or replace the school since 2013. That year, the board commissioned a facilities study to determine how best to move forward.

The report looked at building conditions and proposed possible improvements ranging from upgrades to new construction.

Trustees and the facilities committee decided building a new school would be “the most prudent long-term use of district resources,” O'Brien said.

If approved, the new school will be built on the district's 20-acre campus. Students and teachers would remain in the current Grass Lake school as the new one is built, O'Brien said.

Plans are preliminary

The latest plans call for a two-story, 36,960-square-foot building. It could have 14 classrooms, a music room, an art room, science labs, a common area and other amenities.

An earlier iteration of the plan called for a 42,000-square-foot school.

Regardless, a building has not yet been formally designed, O'Brien said. That's waiting for the Election Day results, he said.

If the project moves forward, construction could start in spring 2016 and wrap up by the start of the 2017-18 term, he said.

More than half the money needed for the project already is in the district's coffers, officials said.

“The district has been engaged in strategic, long-term financial planning to address the aging Grass Lake School facility for the past five years,” O'Brien said.

But the rest would have to come from a voter-approved loan. That would result in a tax rate increase of 52 cents, bringing the district's total to an estimated $4.88 per $100 of equalized assessed valuation, O'Brien said.

If voters greenlight the work, the owner of a house valued at $200,000 will pay about $318 more in taxes to the district the first year, according to district documents.

If voters reject the proposal, trustees still will look to make changes to the building, just on a smaller scale, Jost said.

“If the referendum fails, the school board will seek to make improvements to the school within the budget available to improve the learning environment for the children of today and the future,” he said.

Community members have not formed a group to promote the referendum, O'Brien said. He's unaware of any formal opposition.

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