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Schools grapple with building sale

Proposed charter school offers deal for Sherman Center

April 10, 2013 - Brandon Twp.- Jeff Maxson says he is moving forward with establishing a charter school in this area, but it appears unlikely it will be in a vacant building that the Brandon School District owns.

A purchase request for the Sherman Center, 300 Sherman Court, was on the agenda of a special school board meeting April 8. However, the board did not take action on the item and did not discuss the matter until district resident Todd Heimler questioned them on why they would consider demolition and were not talking about a proposed offer from the North Oakland Charter Academy to buy the vacant building for $100,000 for a kindergarten through fifth grade school.

"I'm disappointed there is no 'yes,' 'no,' or 'maybe,'" said Heimler, the father of three young children.

He suggested the board, who has received demolition bids for the Sherman Center, not knock it down, but consider citizens who have interest in a charter school.

Board Secretary Chris Yuchasz asked him, "If you were us, would you (sell public school district property to a charter school)? Why?"

Heimler responded, "I think I would… In America, it's about choice and freedom. If Sherman doesn't work out, a charter still comes, it just takes another year."

Maxson, a board member for NOCA, agreed.

"If competition is the root of this discussion, let's call it what it is," he said. "I don't want to spin your wheels or ours waiting for a building that is not available."

School Board President Kevin McClellan said the discussion is "very emotional" for the school board and is not really about competition.

"We are responsible to the employees and stakeholders in the district," he said. "The answer is maybe. We haven't taken a vote because we are still discussing it."

However, on Tuesday, Superintendent Lorrie McMahon said the building is no longer appropriate as a school.

"The bottom line is that building is not a building I would put children in anymore," she said. "That's why we don't use it… We've let it get run down because we didn't intend to let it get used ever again as a school. It's just not a building that is appropriate for students anymore and I don't think anyone should use it for kids."

Since August 2009, the school district had been attempting to shed the 11,000 square-foot building on 2.43 acres in the Village of Ortonville. The 50-year-old converted nursing home facility was purchased by the district in the mid-1990s. The building was home to the Brandon Alternative High School and the early childhood Pre-Kindergarten, which were moved to H.T. Burt Elementary School a few years ago after students at that building moved to the new Oakwood Elementary.

The district had the property on the market for quite some time, originally listing it for $600,000. In 2010, an offer of $147,000 was made for the property, but that deal fell through due to the lack of wastewater treatment facilities in the village. McMahon said the property is no longer listed.

In February, the board voted to demolish the building due to its age. Asbestos abatement must take place for demolition and according to an asbestos inspection report, remediation will cost the district $25,250.

The district has received 12 bids for asbestos abatement, ranging from $15,000 to $54,000. They have also received 12 bids for demolition of the building, ranging from $41,000 to $107,000.

Maxson asserts that based on the asbestos report, the building is safe to inhabit and if the district accepted a purchase offer from the charter school, they would save the costs of asbestos remediation, demolition, and increase their budget.

However, McMahon points out the potentially economically devastating impact of the district losing more students.

"I am not sure why anyone would sell something for $100,000 that would actually cost them millions of taxpayer dollars in lost per-pupil funding if we should lose students to a charter school, especially to a building that is so broken down and dreadful," she said. "We just closed a building due to lack of enrollment and this would be like opening another building. We don't know their standards of curriculum or standards of education. I don't know their purpose because they couldn't explain to me anything except the concept of choice— it's not anything real, just a catchphrase used by the charter school community."

The next school board meeting is planned for 6:30 p.m., April 15, at the central district office, 1025 S. Ortonville Road.

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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