In the first half of 1985, a staff member issued a complaint to the State Fire Marshall about a condition at the school. The Fire Marshall came to the school and reviewed the complaint. After completion of his investigation, he issued a list of 20 violations to Superintendent William Briggs. This list was for more than just the complaint. In the Fire Marshall’s report, he noted that the 1927 building was “disapproved for occupancy”. The Fire Marshall gave the school until the start of the next school year to correct these violations. Mr. Briggs began the repairs using money from the Building and Site Fund that had been approved by voters to address problems with the building.

Once the repairs were complete, Mr. Briggs notified the Fire Marshall. Per State law, the Fire Marshall needed to review and approve the repairs. The Fire Marshall visited the school and reviewed the repairs, which he approved. However, he then handed Mr. Briggs an additional list of violations that he had observed while making his approval inspection.

When the Board of Education was informed about the new list, they became concerned that this could be a never ending cycle–list of deficiencies, repairs, approval of the repairs, and then another list of newly discovered deficiencies. The Board requested a meeting with the Fire Marshall.

At that meeting, the Fire Marshall confirmed the Board’s fears. In his discussions with Mr. Briggs, the Fire Marshall suggested that the most cost efficient method to address the volume and nature of the deficiencies might be a bond issue for the repairs and construction of a new facility. Mr. Briggs requested that the Board have a structural engineer evaluate all of the school buildings to see what needed to repaired and what needed to be replaced. The Board agreed.

On the day the structural engineer came to inspect the buildings, the Fire Marshall came to accompany the engineer. They went through the 1927 building and the 1952, 1955 and 1965 additions. The last building they reviewed was the ten-room portable building—the White House.

As the Fire Marshall entered the building, he exclaimed “Oh my God!” While the Fire Marshall went through the White House, the structural engineer conducted “live load” tests on the White House’s roof system. The roof deflected more than four times the allowable limit.

After the inspection, the structural engineer and the Fire Marshall met with Mr. Briggs. The structural engineer told Mr. Briggs that he would submit his report the next week. The engineer suggested to Mr. Briggs that if the district experienced a heavy snowfall, heavy rain, or high winds, that Mr. Briggs should get the students out of the building because it was not structurally sound and could collapse. The Fire Marshall indicated that his report would take a little longer. His evaluation of the White House was even worse than the engineer’s. He informed Mr. Briggs that his report would condemn the White House building. He didn’t condemn it that day because every classroom had an exterior exit door.

The Fire Marshall’s report condemned 21 of the school’s 45 classrooms, including the White House and all of the non-traditional classrooms (on the stage, the 1927 gym floor, the old cafeteria, and the old first-floor boy’s bathroom). This was the direct result of the community failing to provide the funds requested by the Board of Education on four occasions.

The Board of Education went through the process of developing a bond issue to address the repairs that needed to done to the existing school building and the construction of a new high school. The existing buildings would have the 30-year-old furnace replaced, the windows in the 1952 and 1955 additions replaced, most of the electrical system replaced, the building interior painted, and new furniture and floor coverings.

The design of the high school included the specialized classrooms needed to meet the educational needs of the community’s children for an education in the 1980s. The design included biology, physics, and chemistry rooms and labs, two special education classrooms, a home economics room, art room, band and choir rooms, wood shop, library, auditorium, gymnasium with weight room, and two computer rooms. Over time, the educational needs of our children have changed and continue to change. New athletic fields were also constructed—football/track, tennis, baseball, and softball. When designing a new building, the plans should include all the latest advances in educational needs and building design.

The bond was approved and the new high school opened in the late summer of 1988. Repairs to the building on Church Street were completed by that date.

The famous line from the movie A Field of Dreams, “If you build it they will come” seems to apply. The school’s student enrollment continued to increase beyond the projections made when the high school was planned. By 1996, the school district was nearing being out of classroom space.

To address these issues, the Board of Education requested a bond issue for the construction of a primary school (kindergarten to second grade). This construction was funded by extending the school’s debt millage at its then level of 8.45 mills. The community approved the bond issue and Orchard Primary opened in 1998.

Again, “If you build it they will come” applied. By 2002, the district was again running out of classroom space. To address these issues, the Board of Education requested a bond issue for the construction of the middle school (third through eighth grades). This construction was again funded by extending the school’s debt millage at its then level of 8.45 mills. The community approved the bond issue and the Middle School opened in 2004.

Unfortunately, for the first time in decades, actual enrollment fell short of the enrollment projections. This was the result of the State of Michigan’s governor and legislators passing laws to change the tax codes on business. The result was a state that saw businesses leaving the State and resulted in Michigan being the only state in the nation to see its population go down. Unlike the State, Almont’s population increased between 2000 and 2010 and has increased again from 2010 to 2020.

In 2011, the Board closed the old school building on Church Street and crowded all the children into the three newer buildings. After repeated attempts to find a means of keeping the old school had failed, the Board sold the old school. With that sale, the district’s seat capacity decreased by at least 875 students; the district lost 35 classrooms, an auditorium, a gymnasium, and athletic facilities.

For the 2022-23 school year, the school was at 92% of its capacity based on student seats but was over 100% on its room capacity. The school exceeded its room capacity by jerry rigging a special education classroom in a lobby/hallway at Orchard Primary and overloading classrooms. They could not correct the classroom overcrowding by hiring additional teachers because they had no classrooms available.

The Board has proposed a bond issue to correct the classroom shortage and repair/update the current facilities. As part of the bond proposal process, the State requires that the Board get a five-year student projection for the district. That projection is in three parts – a low estimate, a high estimate, and the mean (average). In all three cases, the projections are for an increase in enrollment. Both the mean and high projects indicate that the school’s enrollment will exceed the school’s seat capacity within the next five years. Any large-scale home construction projects within the district will only create a greater overload.

Copies of the Almont Historical Society’s various books can be purchased by contacting Jim Wade at 810-796-3355 or jrwade49@ gmail.com or stopping by the museum on Saturdays from 1-4 p.m.