BERRIEN SPRINGS — Voting machine problems in Oronoko Township kept people from learning the final results for the Berrien Springs school bond issue proposal until Wednesday morning, but the wait was worth it for advocates.
District voters approved the $19.73 million bond issue to fund construction of a new performing arts center and indoor athletic facility.
Superintendent Dave Eichberg said results showed 2,286 yes votes to 2,183 no votes or 51 percent to just under 49 percent. Voters in one of two Berrien Township precincts and two of three Oronoko Township precincts approved the measure. The district covers a small section of Royalton Township.
“You always hope that your community will support education needs, and with this vote people said they supported the needs we put before them,” Eichberg said. “I would like to think that people viewed it as a need and not a want. We weren’t asking for fluff. It was not something nice that we wanted, it was something we needed.”
He estimated that between 40 and 50 district residents worked to get the bond issue passed. He said the campaign committee ended up relying on social media, emails, text messages and phone calls to remind people to vote on Election Day.
He said the work now shifts from getting the proposal passed to doing all the work needed to start construction next year. The goal is to break ground in late summer/early fall 2019 and have most of the construction done by the fall of 2021.
Work to be done in the intervening months includes securing the financing through bond sales, designing the buildings and preparing the bids. Part of the design process will involve forming focus groups made up of staff, parents, residents, the facilities planning committee and board members.
The district has hired the Carmi Architectural Firm of Edwardsburg and will sign a contract with a Grand Rapids-area company to be the contractor. The district is further working with Wightman & Associates on the project.
The bond issue will be paid off over 20 years and require an average millage levy of 3.56 mills over those years. District officials say the actual increase property owners will see on their tax bills will be less as levies totaling 2.78 mills have expired or are expiring this year. That puts the actual millage increase at 0.7632 over the 20 years.
The $12.35 million performing arts center will cover 42,000 square feet and have space for a 750-seat auditorium, band and choir rooms as well as other classrooms. The indoor athletic center will cost $5.4 million and cover 30,000 square feet with space for courts, locker rooms, storage and space for a variety of activities.