Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 14, 2013

TCAPS could close Interlochen Elementary

BY MICHAEL WALTON mwalton@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Interlochen Elementary School’s days might be numbered.

Traverse City Area Public Schools officials are considering closing the school as they regroup in the wake of voters’ most recent rejection of the district’s capital projects millage.

The news came as a surprise to Green Lake Township Trustee Marvin Radtke, who said township residents won’t be happy when they learn of those discussions.

“A lot of them are going to go tilt,” Radtke said. “They’ll think it’s going to be out of spite.”

The elementary school’s future came to the forefront at a school board finance committee meeting about a month after board member Megan Crandall floated the idea of carving townships in the TCAPS district along lines that either strongly favored or rejected TCAPS most recent millage increase request.

Green Lake Township voters rejected TCAPS millage proposals by nearly 3-to-2 margins in the last two elections.

Board President Kelly Hall said discussions about closing Interlochen aren’t related to votes cast in Green Lake Township. She also said the majority of TCAPS board members do not support Crandall’s comments in the wake of the millage defeat.

“That was an unfortunate discussion and the comments about shedding outlying areas of the district don’t reflect the thoughts of the majority of the board,” Hall said. “This in no way is a retaliation against anyone.”

But Crandall stands by her words. Board members need to look at the size and makeup of the district given TCAPS strained capital fund budget and how different parts of the district have weighed in on millage requests, she said. Closing Interlochen Elementary also makes sense if the alternative requires sinking big money into repairs for a building that should be demolished.

“To spend that money on a building that by all indications won’t be usable for long seems like a huge waste of taxpayer money,” Crandall said.

A total reconstruction of Interlochen Elementary — one of the district’s most run-down facilities — was atop the 2013 millage project list.

School closing talks surprised Radtke, given recent conversations between TCAPS, township and Interlochen Center for the Arts officials regarding a three-way land deal.

Interlochen Center for the Arts previously owned the Interlochen Elementary property. If TCAPS abandons it as a school, the land reverts to its former ownership. The center also owns property east of the school’s current location, said Steve Hoffman, a spokesman for Interlochen Center for the Arts.

The three groups initially discussed TCAPS acquiring the lot owned by Interlochen Center for the Arts for the location of a new school, and the township taking over the current school’s location for possible use as a library and community center, township officials said.

Radtke said TCAPS officials conveyed during those discussions that Interlochen Elementary would be upgraded, regardless of the millage outcome.

“There was never an indication or hint that they would close it and bus those kids someplace else,” Radtke said.

Not so, said Paul Soma, TCAPS’ associate superintendent of finance & operations.

“It’s always been true we needed resources to do that building,” Soma said. “That flies completely in the face of what our whole campaign was. We have never said we’re going to do this regardless of what happens at the poll.”

Soma said the district’s former long-term capital plan was based on assumptions that no longer are valid, specifically that voters would continue to renew capital millage authorizations every few years while property taxes grew.

School officials are now considering a host of changes to that capital plan, in addition to closing Interlochen Elementary, including raising the district’s millage rate to pay off the sale of past voter-approved bonds, and returning to the polls with another millage request in 2014.

Soma said TCAPS officials are preparing more information on those and other scenarios for the board’s January finance committee meeting.