Ishpeming school board moving forward with bond upgrades

ISHPEMING – The Ishpeming Public Schools Board of Education will choose between two companies to manage the upcoming construction of upgrades to Birchview Elementary and Ishpeming Middle/High schools, approved last month when district voters OK’d the sale of more than $7 million in bonds.

At a special meeting Monday, the board is expected to tap either Iron Mountain-based Gundlach Champion or Wolgast Corp. from downstate Saginaw as its construction management firm.

As managers of the $7.84 million project, the company would be responsible for “gathering all of the permits, the required approvals from state and local officials and then they also bid the project (to subcontractors) … by trade,” said Business Manager and Interim Superintendent Anthony Bertucci. “They work very closely with the architect to come up with a construction plan and a construction schedule.”

The meeting will take place at 9 a.m. at the middle/high school library.

Early last month, voters approved the sale of bonds to finance a number of improvements to both of the district’s school buildings, including the construction of an addition at the middle/high school to house a cafeteria, kitchen, student commons, wrestling area and fitness center; the replacement of the middle/high school building’s windows with new energy-efficient ones; and, at Birchview, the addition of two classrooms, two computer labs and restrooms compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as upgrades to the school’s lighting.

The district hopes to begin construction in November and work through the winter, with a target completion date of September 2015.

In the meantime, though, Bertucci said the board is working with financial advisors from the Michigan Liquid Asset Fund, which helps manage investments for many of the state’s public agencies and school districts, and downstate Ann Arbor’s Stauder, Barch & Associates to determine where to invest the proceeds of the bond sale for the short period of time before they’re spent.

“You still have to put the funds from the sale of the bonds someplace, so we want to be as prudent as possible with what we do receive,” Bertucci said.

In other action, the board approved some final budget amendments before the district’s 2013-2014 fiscal year ends this month, and adopted preliminary budget figures for its general and sinking funds for the upcoming school year.

Doing a tax rate request as part of that budget process, “we were able to reduce our debt millage rate by .57 mills overall because our bond sale did far better than we expected,” Bertucci said. “We had originally projected a combined (bond) debt of 6.42 mills, but we will actually only need to levy 5.85 mills.”

The district also plans to spend about $320,000 from its sinking fund next year to complete security upgrades to both school buildings, expand the high school computer lab and replace a portion of the roof at the middle/high school, Bertucci said.

Zach Jay can be reached at 906-486-4401.