Traverse City Record-Eagle

February 12, 2014

TCAPS to keep schools open


---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Interlochen Elementary School and other aging Traverse City Area Public Schools facilities are safe — for now.

TCAPS board members agreed this week to spend about $1.2 million to extend the lives of Interlochen and Eastern elementary schools for five to seven years. The decision effectively ended any discussion, at least in the short term, about TCAPS closing Interlochen Elementary, one of a handful of options board members faced in the aftermath of the district's most recent bond failure.

"I think it’s great they are looking at saving the schools and keeping them open for the sake of the students," said Jennifer Emery, the parent of a first grade student at Interlochen Elementary School and secretary of the school's Parent Teacher Organization.

TCAPS' new plan allocates about $715,000 for several projects at Interlochen Elementary, including replacing the school's roof, and about $465,000 to replace the roof and public address system at Eastern, district documents show.

Board members stressed those fixes are not a long-term solution to TCAPS' capital problems, but they do buy district officials time to study other capital plan options and to prepare another bond question for voters in 2015.

Board member Scott Hardy said it doesn't make financial sense to spend roughly $700,000 on upgrades at Interlochen Elementary School, given the building could be demolished and rebuilt if voters approve a bond proposal in 2015.

"It's money you can't recoup if you tear that building down," Hardy said.

But Hardy and other board members agreed the benefits to keeping schools like Interlochen open outweigh any financial drawbacks.

"The reward attained from that is the retention of a community school in a village center that is consistent with both the TCAPS vision for our school district as well as, for example, the (Grand Traverse) County Planning Commission’s emphasis on strengthening village centers," board President Kelly Hall said on Tuesday.

The new plan before the school board did not require a formal board vote, but all members appeared to support it, Hall said.

Board members later will vote to approve bids for specific projects at each building. Interlochen PTO auxiliary member Paul Baldwin, whose daughter is a second-grader at the school, worries the school's future isn't secure yet.

“The roof is not on yet," said Baldwin. "The board still has to see it through all the way.”

And the longterm future of Interlochen Elementary -- and other TCAPS schools -- will still be tied to the outcome of a 2015 bond proposal.

"The prospect of closing buildings is very real if the bond doesn't pass in November 2015 and it may involving closing more than one," Hardy said.