MIAMI – Most Miami students walked through new safer, more secure school building entrances at the start of this school year. High school students parked on a repaved lot. Nichols Upper Elementary students now have a state of the art media center to enhance their educational opportunities.

These improvements all came due to the $3.6 million bond project package approved in April 2016 by Miami Public Schools District voters.

“It's a good way to start school,” Superintendent Jeremy Hogan said. “There's a lot of excitement. To get to this point, it has been a lot of work. I'm very happy and very pleased with where we're at. It looks like we're pretty much getting everything done.”

With rainy weather delays and other unexpected obstacles, many of the projects came down to the wire for completion by the first day of this school year. Other bond projects are nearing completion, and a couple of projects had to be delayed due to overages of costs incurred on other bigger projects, according to Hogan.

“We still have some punch list things to work out,” he said.

Phase I

Phase I of the bond projects included a new roof on Miami High School and Will Rogers Middle School completed before last school year's Christmas break.

“That's helped tremendously with those old facilities with leaks and water coming in,” Hogan said.

Safe and secure entrances were also completed in Phase I at Roosevelt, Washington and Rockdale Elementary Schools. Washington also received a cafeteria expansion and a serving line update.

“Those were pretty minor projects, just some putting doors up, rearranging and moving walls,” Hogan said. “We have the buzz-in system and camera systems to buzz visitors in, but once they were buzzed in they still had access to the school. So, what we wanted to try to do was funnel them into the office areas to where that's the only access they have.”

Phase II and III

Hogan presented an update and status report at the MPS Board's last meeting including photos and video footage of the Phase II and Phase III bond improvements made.

MHS

Secured entrances and staff offices have been completed at Miami High School as well as parking lot repaving. The enclosed corridor connecting the main building to the MAC (Miami Activity Center) is still under construction with expected completion by fall break to provide safer passage for students.

Underground electrical and gas lines needed to first be moved before beginning the corridor.

“We faced some significant engineering issues with that piece, and we've had to go to the drawing board a few times,” Hogan said. “When you're tearing into old buildings, sometimes you find things you didn't anticipate, and that can be costly. A lot of codes have changed over the years, and one of the things that wasn't really budgeted in appropriately was upgrading our fire alarm system. We had to do complete upgrades, and those are very costly, but it improved student safety. It did cause us to have to scale back on some things.”

Neece Concrete poured the new parking lots at MHS and WRMS, and the contractor ran into some water delays and water drainage issues at the high school but pushed through the challenges to get the projects ready by the first school day.

“That's been a tough project. We faced a lot of obstacles, mother nature wasn't kind to us with a lot of precipitation throughout July, and we also faced a pretty common issue around here. We had some soil remediation issues,” Hogan said. “We also had a lot of groundwater issues, underground springs, things of that nature that we really didn't anticipate.”

French drains had to be installed before completing the high school parking lot which runs to the band practice area on the end of the lot.

WRMS

Through the bond, Will Rogers Middle School got a new safer entry, remodeled and improved office spaces, an enclosed corridor to band and tech ed classes, and a new field house locker room with showers and other improvements.

WRMS Principal Justin Chase said during a site tour that the remodel projects made to his building are wonderful for many reasons.

“It's an added layer of safety and a big improvement for our school and our students,” Chase said.

The school's entry and corridor are more visually appealing and efficient for students, staff, and visitors, according to the principal.

“The windows, the colors, the carpet, everything looks so much better, and there's more school pride,” he said. “We are extremely pleased with it.”

Nichols

A new safe entry was constructed at Nichols Upper Elementary School including the secretary and principal office spaces, and work areas, leading into the new Media Center. The Media Center includes a computer lab, a library area with a circulation desk, and restrooms.

“This is a great, great space,” Hogan said.

Parking lot paving at Nichols is helping in efforts to move traffic more efficiently and added additional parking space.

Rockdale

A new multi-purpose room was added through this bond at Rockdale Elementary, which is expected to be completed by the fall break.

Hogan said most of what is left on the Phase II and Phase III projects are the finishing pieces.

“We actually spent the full amount and supplemented a little bit of building fund money on these bond issue projects,” Hogan said. “We supplemented about $150,000 with building fund money in addition to the $3.6 million on some of the parking projects and also a little bit at Nichols.”

Future projects

Projects that are still uncompleted are a safe entry at Wilson Elementary, the high school corridor and Academy's entry and restroom remodel planned for in the bond projects.

“Wilson's the one school that we don't have the safe entry done yet it will require a lot more planning. It's an older building. It's going to be little more complex,” Hogan said.

Two of the bond projects are on hold until more funding is found. Engineering issues brought the field house project well over what was budgeted, according to the superintendent.

“A couple of things that were originally in those projects were a high school field house/locker facility for soccer and track, and a complete remodel of The Academy for their entry and restrooms,” Hogan said. “Those are a couple of things we've had to cut out for the meantime. We're hoping to pick them up down the line through a different bond project or maybe through the building fund through the years if we can. We felt we wanted to concentrate on the educational pieces first and foremost and student safety issues, not that those other things aren't important, but those are the ones we ended up having to cut out.”

Hogan said district bond projects seldom come in right at budget.

“So you're constantly having to scale back a little bit or change some things,” he said.

Technology and safety upgrades

The district also made updates this year with a new LED lighting project.

“The lighting is a lot better, and it's also very energy efficient. We're going to save about $90,000 a year in utility costs,” Hogan said. “This will help us offset some of the education cuts.”

The district got technology upgrades with 400 new devices throughout the sites for student use such as virtual reality goggles.

Hogan said security concerns affecting schools sites often come from outside sources such as criminal activity in the area.

“We were on 14 different lockdowns last year,” Hogan said. “That means no one in, no one out during that time.”

Two Miami Police Department School Resource Officers remain an important front line defense in school safety and security, and the lockdowns were implemented as precautionary measures.

“It's very important to keep the SROs. They are housed at Will Rogers and the high school, but they do also have occasion to go to other sites,” he said.

New business management software is being installed throughout the district for controlling school access.

“When that comes in, you'll have to scan your ID for an immediate full background check,” Hogan said. “It gives us information - are they a sex offender or violent offender and do we need to restrict access or deny it? This helps us provide a safe environment for our students and our staff.”

All MPS staff will be wearing ID badges this year and students in grades six through 12 will soon get ID badges to limit and control access to buildings, and help track visitors. The badges can also be used to scan for lunch purposes or at games or events to identify students.

“We'll be able to know who is in and out of the buildings. At Nichols, WRMS and MHS staff will be able to take their identification badge and swipe in at the front door, for keyless entry,” Hogan said. “These are exciting upgrades. It's another layer of security, of safety. Times have changed. It's not the be all end all, but it's another layer of protection.”

Hogan thanked the community for their support of education through the bond issue approval and subsequent upgrades made to the district.

“It's tremendous. I know community members are just as frustrated as we are with where we are with education funding in Oklahoma,” he said. “It's magnified even more here because of our geographical location - losing teachers to out of state districts, and we're losing more community members taking jobs opportunities outside the city...I truly believe education is the driving force of it all, a good education system will bring in industry and prepare our students to be college and career ready, and be successful and hopefully stay in the community. Right now we're not there, but what I can say about our community as a whole is, they're very supportive.”

Melinda Stotts is the associate editor of the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at mstotts@miaminewsrecord.com or followed on Twitter @MelindaStotts1.