|A damaged ceiling and protected classroom material from leaking water at Crestwood High School|
DEARBORN HEIGHTS – The buildings within the Crestwood School District are in a poor state. Ceiling leaks, broken chairs and outdated technology have plagued students and staff for decades, forcing them to work around and temporarily patch some of the deterioration.
The condition of the schools has prompted district officials and community members to propose a $35 million comprehensive, long-term plan to thoroughly replace damaged property, future-proof classrooms and improve the quality of education.
|Inside a bathroom at Creswtood High School|
State of the schools
An assessment of each of the five Crestwood district schools in 2014 by Plante Moran Cresa, an independent consulting firm, identified more than $50 million in work required to repair and update the facilities.
After multiple committee meetings, dozens of community members and administrators formulated a practical project – a $35 million bond. The breakdown of the investment includes $25 million for security and general building improvements, $5.4 million for expanded property enhancements, $4.1 million to upgrade technology and a half million dollars to replace equipment.
Brian Aprill, director of school operations at Crestwood, said repairs to the damages are long overdue and have cost the schools a considerable amount of everyday essential funds.
The last time the buildings’ infrastructures were upgraded was about five decades ago, he said.
“Most of it is has to be done yesterday kind of stuff,” Aprill said. “Roofs are leaking badly; we have over $4 million dollars of roofs alone that need to be addressed.”
Construction at the schools would begin in the fall, and completion of the project could take upwards of three years, Aprill said.
Ron Alessandrini, Crestwood’s operations and maintenance supervisor, echoed Aprill’s concerns and said the schools too often rely on quick fixes that drain funds originally allocated to improving education.
Alessandrini said that everything in the buildings need to be upgraded to make it safer and healthier for students – something he said should have been done 20 years ago.
He added that about $2,000 is spent to repair each major roof accident.
“it’s nickel and diming us,” Alessandrini said. “And it’s just gonna get worse.
“We’re not sure when the roofs will leak,” he added. “A lot of the teachers will cover their computers and material if there’s a storm coming, just to make sure they don’t get ruined over the weekends or holidays.”
Kim Bayne, PTA president at Riverside Middle School, said she has been involved in school activities since the early 2000’s and has witnessed the dilapidation ever since.
Sitting next to a broken auditorium seat, she lists some of the problems – broken bathroom stall doors, ceiling tiles that are leaking and falling out, collapsing roofs and exposed asbestos beneath floor tiles.
“The facilities are falling apart around our kids,” Bayne said.
|Ripped and broken auditorium seats at Riverside Middle School|
Antiquated security and technology
Among the concerns affecting students is their safety. The district’s schools lack the proper security infrastructure, exposing children and staff to potential harm from intruders.
Laurine VanValkenburg, superintendent of Crestwood schools, said the buildings lack vestibules, small chambers separating the outdoors from the children and staff inside. She added that in one of the schools, visitors that walk in cannot be seen from the main office.
Currently, the schools employ an inexpensive buzzer system, where guests are viewed through a low-quality camera before being let in.
If 911 is called, police currently identify the school’s address as the location of the emergency. To meet federal regulations and ensure superior safety, however, the exact room in the building with the emergency should be identified by police, VanValkenburg said.
To fix that, major overhauls to the technology throughout the facilities are required – starting with the phone system.
“We’ve been told that it is a crash away from not being able to reboot it,” Aprill said of the phone setup.
The “antiquated” communications structure was installed 15 years ago, VanValkenburg said.
“The phone system is so old that they cannot update the software for it,” she added.
As teaching and learning methods evolve into the 21st century, upgrades to the instructional equipment in the classrooms and expansions to the wireless network is essential.
Crestwood High School Principal John Tafelski said that students, who played a pivotal role in addressing the technology needs in classrooms, already use iPads and Chromebooks. He said it is the present old infrastructure that is holding them back.
Wireless Internet throughout the buildings is sporadic and most exams are administered on a computer, Aprill said.
“We wanna stay ahead of technology,” he said. “We know that it is essential in today’s world to continue to give the kids the best opportunity to learn and we’re committed to doing that.”
What it means to homeowners
To remedy the schools’ structural deprecation through the requested funds, Dearborn Heights residents need to vote in favor of the proposal on the May 3 ballot.
In return, homeowners will pay an additional average of $240 in annual property taxes. Homes with higher values pay more.
For example, if a home’s market value is at $75,000, the taxpayers’ cost would be about $131 annually. If a home’s value is at $15,000, a homeowner would pay about $262 a year.
|Deteriorating gym lockers at Riverside Middle School|
Supporting the ballot
Overall backing of the proposal from community members is “overwhelming,” VanValkenburg said.
Since its inception, various “enthusiastic” committees have met regularly to discuss the bond’s implementation and communicated its implications to parents and residents.
Occasionally, however, some residents, especially those who do not have children enrolled in the schools, have expressed opposition to the proposal. They say it is unjustifiable to be required to pay additional property taxes, without benefiting from the funds.
Other opponents say that having to pay more than others because their home’s value is greater is unfair.
Aprill stressed schools are a focal point of any community.
“The values of homes and the whole community are dependent on how well your schools are, how good they are in not just what you produce but in their conditions,” he said.
He added that the goal is to create a vibrant and attractive community where people want to reside. Ultimately, it’s an investment back into the community.
As a parent, Bayne of Riverside said she feels it is important for residents to vote for the bond.
“By having improved schools, its helping our community.” she said. “As people are moving into our community, it helps the resale value of our homes.”
“It keeps the community stable,” Riverside Middle School Dennis Faletti said.
He added that this year, Riverside has enrolled an additional 150 students.
“They wanna be here, why do you wanna send them off somewhere else?,” Faletti said. “If I live here, I want my kids to go to school where I live. We want to send them to a school they really wanna be in.”
Tafelski pointed to the relentless effort and hours students spend in their schools.
He said at Crestwood, over 700 kids taking advanced placement courses. Overall, students have been granted over $10 million in scholarships. Many of them have been accepted to ivy league schools.
“I think that if the facilities match the student output, we would have the most beautiful school in the state of Michigan,” Tafelski said.