Milford High School
What do you do when you're the lowest funded of 28 school districts in one of the wealthiest counties in the country?
Simple: You attract more students.
"It's important in Michigan to attract students to the district because all of our funding for schools relates to the number of students we have," explains Huron Valley, Mich., Superintendent Robert O'Brien.
Easier said than done. To get more students, the Huron Valley district needed to come up with something that would draw more families to the area.
That's where the modernization and expansion of Milford and Lakeland high schools comes in.
"This was something we could market and promote as an innovative place for children," O'Brien says. Not only that, though. The recreation portion of the expansions also would serve as community centers.
"This was one of the most innovative building projects around," O'Brien says. "We would sell memberships to the community to offset costs to the district."
The result at Milford High School is the 93,155-square-foot, joint-use recreation center with competitive and leisure pools, field house, gymnasium, and 5,000-square-foot fitness room.
"If everyone had their way, we would have made the place four times bigger," jokes Todd Arend, architect on the project with Fanning/Howey Associates, Inc. As is, the two pools were a hard sell at first. Some residents thought it was a waste of money to build pools when the area already had 35 recreational lakes.
"Historically, there was a cultural indifference and often complete rejection to the idea of building pools," O'Brien says. But after a year and a half talking to thousands of people, the school district won over the residents with a forward-thinking message.
"We had to shift the focus from the cost to presenting it as an investment," O'Brien explains. The outcome was an approved bond for $104 million, which would be used for a six-year, multi-school improvement plan. "Four years later, we're on time and within our budget," he says. "We went from having no swimming pools in the district to having four." Each high school has both a competition and leisure pool.
The center has been a wild success. Literally. Based on input from a committee of students ages 7 to 17, a zoo theme was chosen for the leisure pool, complete with gorilla, alligator and python elements. State-of-the-art equipment also highlights the gymnasium, where built-in retractable volleyball equipment comes down from the ceiling and an elevated running track looks down into the gym and has access to the bleachers, creating a stadium-like feel.
The district is now gaining solid ground on its competition. While it had lost about 40 to 50 students a year in the past, it has attracted 150 new students each year for the past two years. Translated?
"In real dollars, that means an extra $2 million in revenue for the district," O'Brien says. The best part is that the school district and residents have benefited equally.
"This is not only something the people are proud of, but they also feel it has drawn them together as a community," he says.