$3 million in school repairs, upgrades done
August 24, 2011 - By Joe St. Henry
School's been out for the summer, but it hasn't been a vacation for everyone.
Construction crews and technology specialists have been busy throughout the Lake Orion Community Schools district to complete "priority" projects on buildings and grounds, plus significantly upgrade the computing and communications environment.
The work has been funded by nearly $3 million pulled from the district's equity fund. District administrators were forced to tap into the fund when last winter's bond millage was rejected by voters.
"I have no problem with the district spending money on the latest technology to keep up with other school districts and benefit our children," said district parent Craig Blust. "I just hope they are spending it wisely and can replenish this money in the rainy day fund at some point without another millage, for the rainy days may continue for a while."
At last week's school board meeting, the managers in charge of the construction activities and technology upgrades – Wes Goodman, director of operations and Cliff DuPuy, director of technology and media services, respectively, provided summaries of how the money was spent.
"There were a number of needed repairs and I'm just glad they're finished, or will be, in time for the start of school," said Superintendent Marion Ginopolis, complementing Goodman and his team. She also praised the work of DuPuy and district employees who assisted in the technology conversion. "When you think of how much work was done in a short period of time, it's really amazing."
"I also want to thank the board for allocating the necessary resources," Ginopolis said.
New board member Connie Meech also was impressed with how much was done with the available funding and the fact the work was completed under budget. "We asked them to think outside the box to find savings and that is exactly what they did," she said.
The district allocated $700,000 to the operations department for a variety of repairs and other necessary upgrades to buildings. Concrete sidewalk and step repairs, asphalt work and roof repairs were completed at several locations. In addition, projects at the high school included improved security measures at the front entrance, a refinished gym floor and resurfaced tennis courts, among others. The CERC Building received a wheelchair lift and other safety enhancements.
A new chiller air conditioning system was installed at Orion Oaks Elementary, while outdated lunch room tables from 1971 were replaced at Pine Tree Elementary. Plumbing fixtures that simply could not be repaired were replaced at Webber Elementary, along with an outdoor staircase connecting the lower and upper parking lots. A new crosswalk was made at Paint Creek Elementary. The district's storage building also received a variety of repairs and updates, including enhanced security measures. The operational budget also included the purchase of three special education buses at a cost of $300,000.
Goodman said most of the priority projects related to safety issues that needed to be addressed before school started. All told, the work actually cost about $11,000 less than projected. This balance will be used to complete other repairs around the district, he said.
The school board also allocated $2 million for a number of technology upgrades throughout the district. This included replacement of 993 outdated desktop computers for staff members and computer labs, totaling $800,000. The obsolete computers were recycled through Apple Computer, with the district receiving credit for the old equipment.
The technology projects also included outfitting all district buildings for wireless internet access at a cost of $291,000. DuPuy said additional wireless access points were set up in buildings using the extra funding that became available via the Apple recycling program.
"A wireless environment opens up a ton of opportunities for students," he said. "Our goal was to light up as much of a building as we could, wherever there is instruction." He stressed, however, locations such as locker rooms and rest rooms are not wireless.
In addition, new virtual computer servers were acquired at a cost of $363,000. The district is using "cloud-computing" server technology – essentially on-demand applications and services accessed via the internet – to save money, without jeopardizing flexibility.
This server upgrade enabled the school district to enhance its email system for free, according to DuPuy. It was paid for by Microsoft, to be used exclusively by students and teachers for communicating with each other, as well as with university-based learning programs.
There will be security measures in place to eliminate email-based bullying, use of profanity and other inappropriate behavior. Students will have their own email boxes, with access to common Microsoft applications such as Word, Access and Notes, plus storage on the system for their work.
"Our technology enhancements include components that we didn't have to pay for, which I am very excited to see," said Board President Mary Jo Burchart. "I've also heard from staff installing the equipment and they also are excited to see this technology going into our buildings."
A major upgrade also took place to the infrastructure of the computing system that coordinates the transmission of data. "Think of it as going from a one-inch pipe to a five-inch pipe (in terms of the amount of data that can flow through the network)," DuPuy said. The Oakland County Intermediate School District provides LOCS with internet access; the infrastructure upgrades increase the amount of internet data that can be handled tenfold, he added.
"We made careful selections, especially in regard to the infrastructure enhancements," said Heidi Kast, assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and assessment. "This is really the foundation of the computing system. It should be functional for many years.
"I'm particularly pleased we came under budget on technology upgrades," she added. "That's a result of knowing what resources were available to us and taking advantage of them."
Ginopolis said she cannot wait until all of the district's students return to school on Sept. 6 and see the technology enhancements firsthand.
"They will enjoy a new learning environment more aligned with their world," she said.