Voters on both sides of fence; $58.4 million price tag


ALMONT — Last Tuesday evening, dozens of people gathered in the Almont high school auditorium to hear a presentation on the upcoming bond issue for the school district.

Interim Supt. Kimberly VonHiltmayer gave a detailed explanation of the needs in the district and how those issues would be handled, if taxpayers support the bond vote on February 27.

Before going through a detailed power point presentation, she reminded the audience, “We are all here because we care about the students and their future. We want them to have a positive experience at Almont and quite frankly, we have some serious needs, districtwide.”

VonHiltmayer, who has been employed in the district or over 30 years, pointed to the loss of classrooms when the old elementary school was sold in 2016 and the needed remodeling of the high school media center that, “hasn’t been touched in 30 years. It still has the original furniture and desks,” she said.

After numerous planning sessions and meetings to discuss details, the board has agreed to ask voters to fund updates to the district’s three buildings so the district can provide Almont students with an education in the state-of-the-art learning environment to best serve the district’s needs.

According to information on the district’s website pertaining to the bond, the last bond issue in front of Almont taxpayers was 21 years ago, back in 2002. The information document says the district has not made a significant investment in Almont high school in over 35 years.

Orchard Primary and Almont Middle School are 24 and 18 years old respectively, and most of their equipment, components and materials are at or near the end of their usefulness.

The bond projects basically fall in to four categories: improve safety and security, update school facilities to support the educational programs, update building infrastructure at all school sites and improve arts, athletics and play areas.

VonHiltmayer said while the high school would receive much of the attention following a successful bond, school safety and security are of utmost priority.

If the bond were to be successful, “we would be replacing doors and windows and hardware to help with both of those issues,” the superintendent said. “57% of the district’s roofs need repair as well.”

An area of savings the board has noted is with the lighting throughout the district. Officials say there are 3,500 light fixtures and 10,500 light bulbs being used. By converting to all LED lighting, the district would realize a 60% savings, nearly $30,000, that could be put back in to the General Fund.

A major area of improvement would be with the music program. Plans call for extensive upgrades for the band program, including acoustical upgrades and potentially a band shell that would help with concert performances.

Other improvements include replacing a track to allow for home track events, something that has not happened since 2017.

The other component to the bond, and perhaps the most talked about is an 80,000 square foot building that has had all sorts of names including a multi-purpose building, a Fieldhouse and an Achievement Center.

Regardless of what it is called, the building would not only provide an upgrade to Almont athletics, it could also serve multiple programs including weightlifting, robotics, music, STEM and other activities. According to board members, the building also has potential to become a source of revenue for the district through rentals, tournaments and other activities.

It is estimated the large facility would cost around $14 million or more.

During public comment, a few citizens asked why the bond couldn’t be split into two questions, the facilities and upgrades and a separate issue of the larger facility.

Board members told the crowd the savings would be minimal, as much of what may be in the structure would need to be done elsewhere throughout the district, with limited space.

While public participation at many of the meetings has featured questions, concerns and complaints about the issue, last week’s meeting brought out a number of residents who support the millage.

Many guest speakers were former graduates of Almont who have moved back to the area with their family and want the district to move forward, to be forward thinking and provide the students with first class education and activities.

Dan Walker, who is a member of a group of residents who are promoting the bond said, “I can remember how it was when I was in school. I don’t want my kids to have to learn like that.”

The 2005 graduate added, “I don’t get up in the morning and say I am only going to do the bare minimum to get through the day. I don’t tell my kids in the morning to just do the bare minimum to get through the school day. That’s not how we operate and run our lives.”

He continued, “It’s our turn now,” as he spoke to those in favor of the bond issue. “It’s our turn to step up and do the right thing.”

Tom Schoen, another member of the “Say Yes to ACS” group spoke to the board.

“Being so split on this issue is disheartening. Our kids see this and it’s not right. To blame this board is unjust and plain silly. Remember who we are here for. It’s not for anyone in this room. It’s for those we go home to after this meeting. It’s our children, the students and staff. We need to do what’s best for the community.”

Several other supporters told the board and audience, if the money is not spent now, the cost will only get worse if it’s delayed, and even more expensive.

VonHiltmayer closed the two and a half hour session by saying, “regardless of everything, I don’t want to see this issue tear us apart. It feels like it is getting personal at times and that’s not good for anyone. We have a wonderful community. We have phenomenal staff and students and we all need to work together and keep Almont a great school district.”

Voters will go to the polls February 27 to determine the fate of the ballot issue.