Plans for closed schools still unclear

By J.P. Purtell & Tom Wheadon
world view &  face off

At the end of the 2009-2010 school year, MPS decided to close five elementary schools: Chippewassee, Cook, Mills, Longview and Parkdale, due to low enrollment and pressing budget deficits for the district as a whole.  With the teachers and students that once filled the school redistributed to other schools in the district, the buildings now stand vacant, with plans for their future use either still in development or up in the air.

Chippewassee students began attending Carpenter Elementary, Cook students were moved to Woodcrest, Longview students were split between Eastlawn and Chestnut Hill, Mills students were relocated to Siebert and Parkdale students were redistributed amongst Plymouth, Chestnut Hill and Adams schools. Consolidation of these schools save the district approximately $375,000 per school annually, but pushed building capacities of the remaining elementary schools above 85 percent, with Woodcrest operating slightly above 100 percent capacity level.

Questions and uncertainty revolve around the five former elementary schools’ future use. Plans for each of the individual buildings are all still being decided, depending on talks with various parties that intend on acquiring the vacant buildings and fluctuation in incoming student populations.

The former Longview elementary school is the one building closest to serving a new purpose in the city. Talks surrounding the building involve its donation to the Midland County Educational Service Agency (MCESA), which will convert the building into an early childhood center.  Included in the early childhood center would be programs helping pre-kindergarteners with learning problems, young students who are deemed to be at-risk for academic difficulties or children who otherwise would not have the opportunity for academic care at that age. The center would be available for use by the entire city, leading to high hopes as to the positive effect it would have on the town as a whole.

“Longview isn’t one of those with a respected returning value, but there is a value from an educational standpoint,” President of Midland’s Board of Education Kenneth Mault said.

Parkdale elementary holds many possibilities for the future, especially due to its location.

“I think it’s important for the community to realize that because of the building’s close proximity to Midland High, the potential future use is great,” Mault said.

Possible options for Parkdale include turning it into an addition to the MHS campus, particularly for technical education.  Superintendent Carl Ellinger and other administrators from the MPS community recently visited a technological high school in Indiana and are hopeful that they will be able to bring some of the ideas back to Midland.

Mault is skeptical as to what value the Mills Elementary building has to MPS, but he and the rest of the administration are open to suggestions and possible opportunities for the building’s economic value.

“We don’t have a defined plan for that building,” Mault said. “It’s the location that’s probably the largest obstacle.”

The Chippewassee elementary school building is currently involved in negotiations with a third party company (not affiliated with MPS) for purchasing of the building from the school district.  Specific details, such as the intentions of the company for the building’s use, progress of the negotiations and possible economic benefit to MPS, were not released to prevent possible detrimental effects to the negotiations.

“We’re looking at cost and whether or not the building meets their needs, but it’s way too early to speculate,” Mault said.

If any deal does go through, Mault maintains that it will be for the benefit of all those involved.

“There is a potential benefit to the entire community,” Mault said.

While the buildings remain empty, efforts are being made to make sure they are continually maintained by facility personnel. The buildings are kept at a minimal temperature, along with upkeep on the exterior of the buildings, although the buildings are kept looking presentable.  The Board of Education has no intention of spending significant amounts of money on the buildings’ upkeep without definite plans.

Some of the playground equipment from the closed school buildings has been moved as well.  A couple local elementary schools have received some of the playground equipment and more can be moved from the old buildings as long as removing and transporting them is worth the cost.  Another factor is whether or not the new destination, such as the potential early childhood center at Longview, has space for the playground additions.

One final possibility is that of reopening a couple of the buildings, especially Cook and Longview, as elementary schools if enrollment populations begin to show an incline.

Overall, plans for the five buildings are still entirely in development, especially because the schools were closed only a year ago.

“It’s too short in the process of closing the buildings to determine what will be in the future,” Mault said.

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