by Scott McClallen
A coalition of 12 Michigan intermediate school districts announced plans to launch a comprehensive statewide school infrastructure study.
The review will explain to lawmakers, school administrators, and parents the long-term costs associated with building upkeep as well as necessary health and safety upgrades.
“We are excited that the Michigan Legislature has approved funding to support this critical study,” Oakland Schools Superintendent Dr. Wanda Cook-Robinson said in a statement. “Our priority will always be the health and well-being of our students and staff. We anticipate the findings in the study will afford us the opportunity to proactively address the challenges caused by aging infrastructure.”
The coalition will work with intermediate school districts, regional education service agencies statewide, and Michigan-based construction, engineering and accounting firms to conduct the study. An engineering team will lead the audit that will visit every school building in Michigan to identify aging or unsafe infrastructure, needed safety or security upgrades and unused space that could be repurposed.
The study will focus on the well-being and overall safety of students and staff, with the audit assessing buildings statewide to provide an aggregated look into schools’ needs.
“Between COVID-19, the Flint Water Crisis and recent school safety concerns, we’re seeing a greater push from the community to ensure safety measures are put in place and schools are protected from environmental hazards,” Wayne RESA Superintendent Dr. Daveda Colbert said in a statement. “The infrastructure study will provide the most thorough look ever at Michigan’s school facilities and will provide recommendations on how we can move forward with a cost-effective and sustainable solution that lasts for the long term.”
The Legislature approved $20 million to undertake the study. A majority of the funding will be spent on securing engineers from Michigan familiar with school construction to travel to each building in Michigan to conduct a thorough audit.
“Access to safe and healthy school facilities varies greatly throughout our state. For some of our rural communities, the cost associated to support the school infrastructure needs exceeds the taxpayers’ ability to support them,” Northwest Education Services Superintendent Dr. Nicholas Ceglarek said in a statement. “Similar to the School Finance Research Collaborative Report on the funding necessary to educate a child, this study will outline the needs and opportunities that exist to properly support school-building infrastructure across our great state of Michigan.”
The study aligns with the recommendations included in the release of the School Finance Research Collaborative’s initial study of Michigan’s school finances in 2018.
The study left open three areas for review that could not be completed: transportation, high poverty, and facilities. Work on a transportation study began in 2021 and was released in September 2022. This latest phase is being conducted through the School Finance Research Foundation, a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit, and will be released upon completion.
“This grant award continues the important work that was outlined in the School Finance Research Collaborative 2018 study,” Ingham ISD Superintendent Jason Mellema said in a statement. “We know there is a significant difference in the infrastructure needs between districts and this will be the first comprehensive study to help improve in-person learning environments for students and staff across the entire state.”
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Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.
Photo “Teacher and Students” by Pavel Danilyuk.