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Okemos school board advances $275M bond proposal to fund capital improvements

Outside facade of Cornell Elementary School
Okemos Public Schools
The board voted to keep Cornell Elementary School at its current location as opposed to relocating it.

The Okemos Board of Education is asking voters to let the district borrow money for capital improvements.

Board members voted Monday to recommend a $275 million bond proposal for the November 8 ballot.

The money would fund upgrades including the replacement of buildings for Chippewa Middle School, Kinawa Middle School and Cornell Elementary.

Although a steering committee previously proposed relocating Cornell Elementary, the board has since voted 5-2 in favor of keeping it at Cornell Road after hosting listening sessions and surveying families.

Speaking through tears on Monday, Board President Mary Gebara moved to keep the school in place.

"People bought their homes in Cornell and the surrounding areas because the school was there," she said. "I just believe that we have to support our neighborhood schools."

Officials say rebuilding at the existing Cornell site will be more costly than relocation. And, assuming the bond issue is approved to keep Cornell in place, officials have discussed rebuilding Chippewa first and relocating Cornell students to the old Chippewa building temporarily while the new elementary school is under construction.

That's one reason why Board Member Jayme Taylor wanted to relocate the school. If that happened, students could stay in the old Cornell Elementary while the new building is built at Powell Road.

"I have a real hard time making a vote that could also have lasting negative impacts on students when they are being transitioned like that — our youngest students, after coming off of a really tumultuous, rough, horrible, horrible two years," she said.

After Michigan’s Department of Treasury reviews the proposal, the district has until August 16 to send final ballot language to the elections clerk.

If voters approve the measure this fall, officials say the district’s overall property tax rate will stay the same at 7 mills.

Sarah Lehr is a state government reporter for Wisconsin Public Radio.
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