Grand Rapids to build two new elementary schools - KBJR 6 Your Weather Authority: News, Weather & Sports

Grand Rapids to build two new elementary schools

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The Grand Rapids School District is moving forward on a $69 million expansion plan, after voters narrowly approved the district's referendum.

The math is elementary: 3249 votes plus one referendum equals $69 million for ISD 318.

According to Superintendent Joni Olson, that $69 million equals two new elementary schools serving 750 students each.

"It's very exciting to move forward with the planning that has occurred over the past year," she said. "Our population is growing, our community is growing."

Olson said the three current schools, even with their 5th graders moved into the middle school to make extra space, have 20 percent of their classrooms in portables. 

As for those three elementary schools, Olson said they're not getting any bigger.

"With those small sites that were constructed in the 1950s in those small neighborhoods, the infrastructure and the space available for expansion does not make expansion of those schools realistic," she said.

Which is why Olson said the three current elementary schools will be consolidated into the two new buildings. 

Edna I. Murphy and Southwest Elementary schools will remain part of the district serving other purposes but Forest Lake Elementary will go to the city of Grand Rapids in a land exchange. 

According to co-chair of the Elementary Facilities Task Force, Kent Koerbitz, that was part of his task force's efforts to reduce the cost of the project.

"This is a huge investment for the school district and for this area. It's a lot of money you can't put that aside," he said.

He said the task force worked to shave $11 million off the $80 million referendum voters shot down in 2015.

Three years later this plan passed by 62 votes and he understands why voters may fear a financial strain as this impacts their property taxes.

"There's a lot of people that really struggle to find an extra dollar at the end of the month," Koerbitz said.

Still he said investing in education pays off.

"If you're gonna attract employers, if you're gonna attract good quality people,  you need to have good quality schools," he said.

To Koerbitz, it's simple math for a district and a community looking for something to add.

The district expects to break ground on the project next spring and move students into the new buildings by 2021.

Voters did not approve the second ballot question, which would have funded improvements to athletic facilities in Bigfork, and Grand Rapids. 

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