PORTAGE, Mich. (WOOD) — On Nov. 3, voters in the Portage Public Schools district will be asked to decide on two millage proposals totaling $144 million.
PROPOSAL 1: MIDDLE SCHOOLS, BUSES, TECHNOLOGY, POOLS
Proposal 1 is a $128 million plan that would, among other things, pay to build two new middle schools and renovate a third.
Portage Central Middle School was built in 1957. Portage North Middle School was built in 1961.
“They were built as junior high schools, so what you really have there are facilities that were built for a different purpose and now are accommodating middle school students. Middle school education has changed dramatically over the years and we’re looking to build facilities that will serve the needs of today’s middle school students,” Superintendent Mark Bielang explained.
If the bond proposal is approved, the district would build brand new schools at each location. Additionally, West Middle School, built in 1971, would be renovated.
Proposal 1 would also fund the purchase of new buses and upgrading technology across the district.
The plan would also pay to build two new pools, one at Portage Northern High School and the other at Portage Central High School.
Currently, Portage has three pools, one at each middle school. Bielang said they are in poor shape. He says most programs are centered around the high school, so it makes sense to build pools at each high school and retire the ones at the middle schools.
PROPOSAL 2: TWO NEW STADIUMS
The district’s Proposal 2 would deal with outdoor athletic facilities.
“Proposal 2 would allow us to replace a very quickly deteriorating McCamley Field,” Bielang said.
Located across the street from Portage Central High School, McCamley Field is shared by both Central and Northern High Schools. Built in the early 1950s, school leaders say it no longer fits the needs of the district.
“It has served its purpose. It is on its last legs. The infrastructure is deteriorating rapidly. We see that from the reports we are getting that it only has an expectancy of maybe two to five years. So something is going to have to happen with that field,” Bielang told 24 Hour News 8.
Proposal 2 would build two new stadiums. McCamley Field would be replaced by a new stadium for Portage Central, and Portage Northern would get a long-talked about stadium of its own.
School leaders say the district needs new stadiums and feel the time is right to go from one to two.
“I don’t think people understand how much stadiums could be used if they had stadiums at each facility,” Bielang said. “For example, we don’t host any marching band festivals here. Our students are always traveling to a different location. So this allows us to create facilities that can be used by our students for more than just football. We’re talking soccer, lacrosse and any other kinds of activities that can use a stadium-type facility.”
The issue of a second stadium has been debated for years. Currently, Portage Northern students have to go across town to play their home football games at McCamley Field, located across the street from rival Portage Central. The district has to pay to bus the team and equipment over. The district also has to transport the band and its equipment for each home game, though part of that cost is picked up by the band boosters.
The issue of a second field has failed at the polls twice in the past 13 years. In 2002, Portage Northern parents and students convinced the district to put a $4.7 million proposal on the ballot to built a new stadium at Portage Northern, but voters rejected it.
In February 2007, the district included the stadium question in a larger $145 million bond proposal. Voters rejected it by 53 percent to 47 percent. The district went back to voters with two proposals eight months later, this time without including a stadium plan, and both passed by healthy margins.
This time, Portage school leaders say they have taken the time engage the community in the planning process and feel there is support to build new stadiums. They say the time to act is now.
“McCamley Field has a limited life expectancy. If Proposal 2 passes, we’ll be able to address that. If it doesn’t, we still have a need there — and costs are only going to continue to go up,” Bielang said.
SUPERINTENDENT: DISTRICT HAS $300M IN FACILITIES NEEDS
The latest requests are part of a larger, three-phase facilities plan for the school district.
“We still have a lot of facility needs here in the district. I think we identified over $300 million worth of facility needs. This is a portion of those needs. So this is phase two of what we’re looking at currently as three different phases that we’re having to implement,” Bielang explained.
Phase one of the facilities plan consisted of the 2007 bond that addressed the high schools and built two new elementary schools. The proposals on the November ballot are phase two, dealing with aging middle schools. A facility steering committee in 2014 indicated phase three would likely address the district’s elementary schools, five of which were built in the 1960s. No timeline has been set yet to address those issues.
If both proposals on the November ballot pass, the average Portage homeowner will pay an additional $115 per year in taxes.