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Portage Seeks Bonds for Schools and Stadiums

Andy Robins

Voters in the Portage School District face two bond proposals on Tuesday, November 3. One focuses on the district’s three middle schools. The other raises an issue that’s been controversial in the past: new stadiums at its two high schools.

Portage School Superintendent Mark Bielang says the district’s middle schools need help, especially its aging Central and North middle schools for sixth, seventh, and eighth graders.

"I think Central was built in 1957 (and) North in 1961. And those were really built as junior high schools. They housed grades seven and eight and they're really not designed for the education that students are receiving today."

Portage School Superintendent Mark Bielang talks about the bond proposals

Proposal One would authorize the district to sell $128 million in bonds. They would raise the money needed to build new Central and North middle schools and to upgrade facilities at West Middle School. The money would also replace two swimming pools at Central and North middle schools with new ones at the district's high schools, and cover the cost of 30 new busses and new classroom technology.

But it's Proposal Two that might draw the most interest, even though it’s much smaller. It would raise $16 million in bonds for two new “multi-purpose” athletic facilities at Portage Central High School and Portage Northern High School. The two have shared McCamly Field near Central for decades of football games and other events. But Bielang says McCamly is nearing the end of its useful life.

"It's got a life-expectancy of only three or four more years before we believe that facility, in particular the seating sections, will be deemed unfit for use. So we have an issue that we're going to have to address sooner or later with McCamly Field."

Credit Andy Robins / WMUK
Portage West Middle School would see upgrades if Proposal 1 passes

The Portage Schools have tried – and failed – to win voter approval for a football stadium at Portage Northern before. But Bielang says separate facilities at the two high schools would allow the district to handle more athletic and community events, like marching band competitions.

Although Bielang says there appears to be public support for the new athletic complexes, he says Portage School Board trustees decided not to put everything into one big tax request.

"It really came down to what we were hearing from our community: that there was a great deal for our middle schools and for our pools, less so for the stadiums. As you mentioned, there's been a little bit of controversy on that in the past. And so, rather than jeopardize our academic needs with the stadium on that proposal, we separated the two out."

If both bond proposals are approved, Portage School officials say a typical homeowner would see a tax increase of just under ten dollars a year.

The district has information and a video about the bond issues online. They are also covered in the Kalamazoo League of Women Voters voter guide (PDF).

Andy Robins has been WMUK's News Director since 1998 and a broadcast journalist for over 24 years. He joined WMUK's staff in 1985. Under his direction, WMUK has received numerous awards for news reporting.