Vassar Public Schools leaders may not be the only people paying close attention to the school district’s request for voter approval of a $19.7 million bond issue to finance school improvements including demolition of the existing high school academic wing and construction of a new one.
Several audience members at Wednesday’s weekly meeting of a Vassar senior citizens’ group asked pointed questions to Vassar Superintendent Dorothy “Dot” Blackwell, who was accompanied by district Technology Director Theron Nesbitt and Custodial/Maintenance Supervisor Randy Tausch.
Blackwell said earlier in the month that the district plans to build a new two-story academic wing — on the site of Vassar High School’s parking lot at Division and Athletic streets — but she clarified that statement upon questioning by Loraine Schluckbier of Vassar.
“What I’m wondering is why a two-story new building?” Schluckbier asked at the meeting inside Bullard Sanford Memorial Library’s Dykhouse Room.
“Why two stories?” Schluckbier said. “They haven’t built two-story schools in years, and I just wondered why.”
“Let me clarify,” Blackwell said. “It doesn’t have to be two stories. It’s 32,300 square feet. It can be one story. It does not have to be two stories. We’ve had many discussions about what this academic wing would look like, and it came down — when we talked with the construction manager and the architect — that it’s just the square footage.”
“So there would be two stories to that new building?” Schluckbier asked again.
“We have talked both (a one-story academic wing and a two-story one),” Nesbitt said. “We’re working with our architect, and he’s saying ‘If you do one story, it will be closer to the road, and if you do two stories you’ll have more room around from the edge of the building to the road, so you’ll have to build up.’”
Schluckbier said that if district leaders decide to build a two-story building, “you’ll have to have an elevator, right?”
“By law, yes, we will have that — and it’s still going to be the same price,” Nesbitt said.
“The way the kids are nowadays, with no respect for anything, I can’t see two stories and an elevator,” said Harrietta Botkins, 92, of Tuscola Township.
If voters approve the 30-year bond issue, it would trigger a property-tax increase on district landowners. Ballot language provided by Tuscola County Clerk Jodi Fetting indicates the owner of an $80,000 home would pay an average annual tax of $168 to pay back investors over 30 years if voters approve the sale of the bonds.
Blackwell encouraged audience members wanting more information on the bond proposal to visit the website yes2Vassar.com.
“There has been a lot of attention given to making sure our facilities are taken care of, to the very small detail,” Blackwell stressed, and Tausch listed numerous improvements the district has paid for in recent years.
The website mentioned by Blackwell lists 67 “priority items” that would be paid for by approval of the bond issue, including the $7 million replacement of the high school academic wing and other improvements at all three school district buildings. She has said Townsend North School would become “more of an early childhood/community center” that also could become a dual-enrollment center for high school students.
Nesbitt stressed that the school district offers no-cost services to community members, including free computer classes and the ability to exercise free by walking in school hallways.
“Wait a minute, I’ve got a question,” said Terry Mocny I, 64, of Vassar. “You say walk your hallways for free. I’ve been up there and I’ve done it. The last couple times I went up there, there was apples on the floor, milk cartons on the floor, busted cookies, napkins and the floors were trashed.
“You go down the hall and there was a picture of Mr. Donald Trump on the wall with a great big slash mark across his face.”
Nesbitt said that “in that hallway that I’m going to guess you’re speaking of, there is a social studies class and they do a lot of different things that are government-related, though I don’t know what the circumstances are.”
Later in the meeting, Blackwell said she would investigate conditions of hallways and student behavior.
“That’s something I’m going to go back, right now — today — and we’re going to talk about that, because that is a huge concern for us,” Blackwell said. “How our students treat the things that we provide to them shows respect. And the things I heard today ring of disrespect — and that’s something we do not value.”
Blackwell said she was disappointed to hear Vassar Public Schools students described as disrespectful.
“I’ve been very happy lately, because our kids actually did a field trip out to Saginaw Valley State University and they went out to Delta College, and the feedback I got was how respectful our kids were, and what good role models they are, and that they would invite Vassar schools back.”
Mocny told school officials that he toured Vassar school facilities about three years ago with then-Superintendent Tom Palmer.
“We went through all of these buildings and looked at every single thing that needed to be done, wrote it down and came up with estimates and everything,” Mocny said. “He told me at that time that ‘Six or seven million dollars will finish this up completely.’
“But just listening to you people talk, a lot of the stuff that goes wrong with that school was wrong in the first place. Like the cement that was heaving (at Central Elementary School)? If you hired capable people to do the job, you wouldn’t have had that problem. But, there’s nobody there to do that — you know?”
Blackwell told Mocny he posed “a really good question.”
“I wasn’t here obviously — I’m new to the family here, but this is what you need to hear clearly: Attention to detail is very important to me as a superintendent of schools,” Blackwell said. “Attention to the work that is happening is extremely important to me, to the point that I am in classrooms and I am watching all of my principals and what they’re doing to make sure that they’re adhering to what we have set as our goal and that it aligns to our mission and vision.
“We are evaluating every single member of our staff, which has never happened before.”
Mocny, however, said that “We have enough money to redo it the second time, because we didn’t do it right the first time.”
Tausch said that “Being that (Central Elementary) school was in a hole … back then and luckily there was enough bond money left, we (used) about an extra $200,000 of that because of it being in a hole.”
That money came from a bond issue approved by voters about 20 years ago, Blackwell said.
“Are you saying that the problems we’ve had with Central School, on walkways and stuff, was because it wasn’t done right the first time?” asked Brenda Putman from the audience.
“I can’t really say that,” Tausch replied, “but I do know that any time you build something — and I don’t know about anybody else — but I would rather bring dirt in than take dirt out. I want my house, or whatever it is, on an incline. I don’t want it the other way.”
Blackwell stressed that the bond issue proposed to voters in the May 2 election would pay for improvements at Central Elementary including a new roof and boiler system, secure entrances, windows and carpet repairs.
“We’re not looking for any foundations — those things have been taken care of, and they’re fine,” Blackwell said.
Tom Gilchrist is a reporter for The Advertiser and can be reached at email@example.com