Public Response: ELPS Bond // Mike Conlin


One has a better perspective of how large this current bond proposal is by comparing it to the 2012 bond proposal. (Note that the 2012 bond proposal included closing Red Cedar but rebuilding the 5 remaining elementary schools to have even more teaching stations than the 6 elementary schools that existed at the time.) This comparison also illustrates why passage of the current bond proposal will result in significantly less classroom resources. The table below provides a comparison along several dimensions.

2012 bond

2017 bond

Total Cost for Elementary Schools

$44.2 Million*

$93.3 Million

Square feet of New Construction



Square feet of Renovations



Cost per Square Foot





Square Feet per Student

(assuming # of elementary school students remains at 1,683)



(164 excluding half of Red Cedar)

*The 2012 bond included $9 Million for non-elementary schools (making the total $53 Million).

The most striking aspect of the table is that the total cost of the capital investment in the elementary schools increased by 113% [=(93.3-44.2)/44.2] from 2012 to 2017 and this increase is primarily attributable to a 77% increase in the cost per square foot [=(313-177)/177]. Advocates of the bond have stated that the dramatic increase in costs is attributable to increases in the cost of construction. Credible estimates of annual school construction cost increases over this time appear to be in the 2-3.5 percent range (see https://edzarenski.com/2016/10/24/construction-inflation-indices/) but these may vary locally. For the sake of argument, let’s assume it is 4% annually in East Lansing. That would explain the cost per square foot increasing from $177 to $215 [=177*(1.04)^5]. The next question is what is responsible for the increase from $215 to $313 - which corresponds to a $28 Million increase in the total cost of the bond.

Along with increased costs per square foot, the table indicates that total square feet also increased from 250,000 in the 2012 bond (excludes Red Cedar) to 298,015 in the 2017 bond (includes Red Cedar). Assuming elementary school enrollment remains constant, square feet per students is 149 in the 2012 bond and 177 in the current bond (164 excluding half of Red Cedar if used for childcare/Pre-K). Both are much larger than the 122 square feet per student that currently exists.

Under the current bond proposal, each of the five new schools (on the Whitehills, Donley, Glencairn, Pinecrest and Marble sites) have 13 teaching stations along with a science, an art, a music and two special education classrooms –not to mention an assortment of smaller rooms for ELL, planning, small group and staff.

Here are obvious suggestions to reduce the construction and operating costs at the five new schools.

  1. Instead of building new gymnasiums at each school, do minimal renovations on the gymnasiums at Whitehills, Glencairn, Pinecrest and Marble (as was proposed in the 2012 bond). While this may result in some compromises in terms of drop off/pick up flows, it would save somewhere between $7 and $11 million in construction costs (depending on whether the construction cost per square foot of gym is $313 or more).

  2. Drop the 13th teaching station and only have 12 teaching stations (2 per grade). This would save $2 million in construction costs (assuming $313 per square foot) and $36,000 per year on operational costs (assuming $6 per square foot for utilities, maintenance, custodial, etc.).

Here are also a couple of other possibilities that would reduce construction and operating costs at the five new schools.

  1. Consider whether the district requires 10 special education classrooms. This is almost double the current number of special education classrooms.

  2. I love the idea of each elementary school having a dedicated science/STEM classroom. However, these dedicated classrooms are costly (both in terms of construction and operation). I am concerned that ELPS will be unable to appropriately staff these dedicated science/STEM classrooms and, therefore, these classrooms will end up as wasted space. If the district does decide to have these dedicated classrooms, they must have a plan on how to adequately staff them. The district should also evaluate whether classrooms can be designed to have dual purposes – such as one of the other specialty rooms being able to also offer science instruction.

If only the first two recommendations above were implemented and the reduction in the bond millage due to the lower costs were replaced by a recreational millage, an additional teacher could be hired at each of the elementary schools (in perpetuity). If the cost of construction per square foot did not increase 77% relative to the 2012 bond but instead increased 4% annually (from $177 to $215), ELPS could hire 11 more teachers (in perpetuity) by further reducing the bond millage and increasing the recreational millage. I hope this clearly illustrates why passing such a large bond will significantly reduce classroom resources relative to a more reasonable bond proposal. ELPS CAN HAVE BEAUTIFUL FACILITIES AND MORE CLASSROOM RESOURCES, IF THE BOND PLACES THE LONG TERM NEEDS OF THE STUDENTS, TEACHERS, STAFF AND TAXPAYERS AT THE CENTER.

Mike Conlin

[The information in this post is based on my research and represent my views. They do not necessarily represent the views of MSU.]