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Voters to Decide on Mt. Pleasant Schools’ $35.9M Instructional Bond

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Westlake High School would see extensive interior renovations, as would all four of Mount Pleasant’s school buildings, if the district’s $35.9 million instructional bond be approved next Tuesday.

Seven years ago, the Mount Pleasant School District was finally able to push through a bond totaling $39.6 million on the third try to improve critical infrastructure in the district’s four school buildings.

In March 2022, the district was successful in easily passing its athletics facilities bond for about $9.7 million, a vote that was postponed for two years due to the pandemic.

School officials hope the final piece of the district’s overhaul comes next Tuesday, when voters are asked to authorize a nearly $36 million bond that focuses on instructional spaces, including additional classrooms at Hawthorne and Columbus elementary schools to alleviate capacity issues. Other areas in those buildings and at Westlake Middle School and Westlake High School would be repurposed to meet the programmatic demands of 21st century education.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Peter Giarrizzo is optimistic that a relatively quiet run-up to the Dec. 12 vote is a sign that district residents understand the need for the enhancements, which directly address learning.

“I’ve been planning for this for about almost two years now because I knew the debt was going to be falling and I knew that the next really important work of the district was in the instructional spaces,” he said. “So we have been working over time to figure out how to best leverage that, those resources, because they’re not infinite.”

Borrowing for the bond would begin in the 2026-27 school year, just as the debt for the 2005 elementary schools bond expires. Therefore, taxes are not projected to rise for residents, Giarrizzo stressed. The debt service associated with next week’s $35,957,772 bond would match what is falling off from the 2005 proposition.

One of the most critical pieces for the upcoming bond is a more than 5,000-square-foot expansion at both the K-2 Hawthorne Elementary School and Columbus Elementary School, which serves grades 3-5.

Four additional classrooms would be built at Hawthorne to provide kindergarten students nearly 1,000 square feet of space in all seven of that grade’s classrooms, the current recommended guideline. Today, most of the kindergarten classrooms measure between 650 and 750 square feet, Giarrizzo said.

The additional square footage – 5,400 square feet over two stories – would also allow the district to reorganize space in the building to have classes arranged by grade. Space will be reconfigured on the second floor for a science lab, an art lab and an art and music space, he said.

At Columbus, the 5,200-square-foot addition includes three new classrooms and would reconfigure areas that would provide more small group instructional space, be able to group the fifth-grade special education students with their peers rather than have them separated and create a second music room to allow the school to offer an orchestral program.

A new STEM lab would also be built.

“We know that the buildings, Hawthorne in particular, is essentially functioning at over 100 percent capacity right now,” Giarrizzo said. “So we had to deal with that. We know that Columbus, which is not at 100 percent – it’s in the high 80s, low 90s percent – so we had to deal with that.”

There would be renovations to all four science labs at Westlake Middle School as well as the replacement of the lockers, which dates back to the building’s opening in 1970.

The shared middle school/high school library would be transformed into a state-of-the-art media center.

The most extensive renovation work would be at the high school, which would see updates to all science labs and studio art room and a new STEM lab that would focus on engineering and robotics.

While the footprint of the high school would not change, Giarrizzo said the interior construction work would convert the current senior cafeteria into a makerspace or science lab and the other cafeteria would be enlarged to about 4,300 square feet.

Giarrizzo said the schools, all at least 50 years old, need upgrades for today’s learning.

“What was state of the art 50, 60, 70 years ago when a lot of these buildings were built, they are not state of the art anymore,” Giarrizzo said.

Two additional important projects would also be addressed in the bond. There would be locked vestibules with bulletproof glass installed so visitors would not have immediate access to the school until they are allowed to gain entry.

Furthermore, the high school theater would be completely renovated and have the latest lighting and acoustical equipment installed. The district has already set aside $3.2 million to help offset the more than $5 million cost of the theater.

Just about every school group, from the PTA, to the teachers and the Westlake Athletic Club has come out in support of the bond. At the last Board of Education meeting, Westlake Middle School special education teacher Virginia Campbell said the staff does well to improvise and be creative to provide the best education, but the spaces often fail to match the students’ and the district’s needs.

“Our district has worked hard to plan, define, create and implement a high level of instruction,” Campbell said. “We have a strong strategic plan. This bond would give us the space to achieve it. Our students deserve it and they are counting on your vote.”

Westlake Athletic Club President Christopher McClure said every district student would benefit from the improvements at the schools.

“While being tax neutral, it will provide all the schools in the district a much-needed expansion and upgrades, including security upgrades to the entrances at all of our schools,” McClure said.

Should the bond be approved by voters, there will be a staggered schedule of design, submission to the state Education Department and construction, according to Giarrizzo. The pre-construction process is expected to take 18 to 20 months, so Hawthorne Elementary School, which would be the first school to have work done, would have that commence in summer 2025 and be completed in early 2027, he said.

That would be followed by construction at the high school starting in November 2025, with Columbus Elementary School work to follow in summer 2026 and the middle school in 2027. All work would be scheduled to wrap up by early 2028.

Giarrizzo said paring down the scope of the work to match the expiring debt service and communicating with the school community has been important.

“We have tried to put a lot of information out, and so I am hopeful that people feel confident in the plan, and I think it makes a difference, I think it does make a difference that the board and I are structuring spending plans that don’t add to the taxes,” Giarrizzo said.

Voting will take place next Tuesday, Dec. 12 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Westlake High School gymnasium.

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