Building our kids’ future


If you hadn't noticed, the days are getting shorter and the mornings a little crisper. Fall in West Michigan brings apple picking, enthusiastic ArtPrize crowds and kids back in school. It's also the time of year when you start hearing and seeing lots of information about school bond proposals.

Few election issues impact communities more than school bond campaigns. They are critical to our region’s continued success and growth. Most of us have seen yard signs, but do you really understand the anatomy of a school bond issue?

What are bonds and how do they work? It seems like a simple question, but many people vote on Election Day not really understanding what is at stake. To put it simply, a bond is a loan or I.O.U. issued by a school to investors, banks and/or brokerage houses to pay for building projects or capital improvements. The school district is obligated to pay back the principal and interest at a later date. That is where you come in.

The debt is typically paid back via property taxes. When most of us hear the words “property tax” we think of our millage rate. A mill is one/thousandth of your taxable home value. For example, if the State Equalized Value of your home is $100,000 and your millage rate is 15 mills, then your property tax would be $1,500 (15 mills multiplied by $100,000, then divided by 1,000 = $1,500). If a 2-mill school proposal were to pass, it would increase your annual millage rate by 2 and raise your annual property taxes by $200 (2 mills x 100,000/1,000 = 200).

One of the upcoming bond proposals that will affect Grand Rapids residents is for the Grand Rapids Public Schools. The Nov. 3 ballot will feature a 30-year, $175 million bond issue that voters will decide. GRPS has a history of successful school bond campaigns resulting in amazing new schools and renovations, although the last major one was over a decade ago in 2004. Regardless, the school district has continued to make great progress over the last few years and has actually experienced growth; however, there are still many old facilities in need of improvements — most of the computers and other technologies are at least six to 10 years old or more, and obviously well past their recommended relevancy.

When it comes to school construction, Triangle Associates cares deeply about school bond issues. Few construction projects are as complex and require the critical thinking needed to build a new school or improve existing facilities. Triangle has helped many school districts navigate the bond proposal process, including guidance on needs assessment, budgeting, campaign development, design assistance and voter education.

We are genuinely invested in the Grand Rapids community and many of our employees have children enrolled in the district’s schools. What better way to serve the community than to help build our kids’ future?

Grand Rapids has established itself as one of the best midsize cities in the United States with lots of positive national exposure. To keep this momentum going, our local schools need to keep up with the progress. For these bond proposals and subsequent work to be successful it requires a true partnership between school boards/administration, construction professionals, architects and community members.

Most school bond campaigns have websites or other resources to learn exactly what the funds will be used for. For example, at the GRPS bond proposal website, you can review the detailed breakdown of where the construction dollars will be spent. There is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes to make sure that the proposed bond covers the necessary construction improvements and that everything is planned for and clearly communicated.

Be sure to get out and vote on Nov. 3. To continue Grand Rapids’ ascension as a great urban center in which to live, work and play, we need to ensure that the area schools are equally as inspiring. As we are enjoying all of the great things that West Michigan has to offer this fall, let’s also take time to educate ourselves on any school bond proposals.

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As president of Triangle Associates in Grand Rapids, Mitch Watt is involved in the day-to-day operations of the construction company, including oversight of the firm’s business development activities that focus on marketing, sales, strategic planning, pre-construction phases and design-build services. Mitch also serves as project executive on key projects, especially those with design-build contracts. He has particular expertise in facility assessment, master planning, concept design and development, construction documentation and construction services. Mitch has more than 28 years of experience in the industry and serves on a number of local boards and committees. Previously, he was VP and managing principal of URS’ Michigan operations.