MARQUETTE -After months of debate, the Marquette school board voted 5-2 Tuesday evening to move the 2010-2011 fifth-grade class from Graveraet Intermediate School to Bothwell Middle School
The Graveraet building will remain open and in use for K-12 education, although the purpose has not yet been determined. The board voted to continue exploring other possibilities for grade alignment and building use - a process that will conclude by January 2011.
Vice President Tony Retaskie and Trustee Rich Rossway voted against the motion. Rossway said several times during the meeting that he would like more time to develop a plan and explore further options.
Marquette Area Public Schools board secretary-treasurer Mark Smith speaks during Tuesday’s meeting. Smith made the motion to move fifth-grade students to Bothwell Middle School next year, while keeping the Graveraet building open for K-12 education purposes, which have yet to be determined. The motion passed, 5-2. (Journal photo by Claire Abent)
"I feel as though we have a lot more work to do before we make a decision. If we move those fifth-graders out. I'm worried what will happen to that building. Let's look at the sustainability of Graveraet as a priority," Rossway said before the formal motion was made.
"I want something more palatable, something I can understand. Why the rush to judgment? ... I'd like to continue what I think has been some great dialogue tonight."
Retaskie said he was concerned moving fifth-graders or closing Graveraet could alienate voters, who might not support future bonds or bond continuations, harming the district in the long run.
"Why the rush to judgment? ... I'd like to continue what I think has been some great dialogue tonight."
- Rich Rossway,
"I think we should step back and take another look at it," Retaskie said. "These are folks in the community that other people listen to ... I'm not sure we can go to these folks and say 'help us support this.' "
Board Secretary-Treasurer Mark Smith, who made the motion to move fifth-graders to Bothwell, said it was the best decision at this time.
"I see the future of Graveraet as very positive, but I don't want to see it as a K-5 school," he said. "(We need to) make decisions that benefit the students the most."
Trustee Laura Songer said it was important to make a decision sooner rather than later, so that teachers and parents could plan for next year.
"We need to make a decision soon for everyone involved," she said.
Earlier in the meeting, Retaskie made a motion to keep fifth-graders at Graveraet while continuing to explore other options and develop a plan that looked at "consequences, scenarios and projections" for different grade alignment solutions. That motion was defeated 5-2, with only Rossway and Retaskie voting in support.
Tuesday's decision came after a meeting lasting more than four hours, when community members expressed concerns about the possible closure of the building and the realignment of grades within the district.
"There were many alternatives that should be explored, (and) my personal perception is, since that time through the summer and through the fall, what we've really done is try to justify what was proposed last spring and not truly explore all of the alternatives," said Matt Williams, the parent of a Bothwell Middle School student.
Other members of the public suggested closing other buildings.
"You need to look at things that aren't going to cost a lot of money," Jake Guter said. "I think that looking at the idea of looking at Bothwell as the school to close is something we ought to consider. That building is an energy pig ... I don't think it is conducive to good education and I am not in favor of trying to crowd fifth through eighth grade into that."
After the decision, there was no further public comment.
A revised plan for renovating Graveraet to accommodate K-5 education was presented by Integrated Designs Inc. The original plan had a price tag of $6.3 million, while the new plan would cost $1.3 million.
Peter Kaufman, chairman of the Kaufman Foundation, explained at the meeting his organization's ties to the Graveraet building, the community and his willingness to continue to assist. Kaufman had previously offered a donation of up to $300,000 to help save the Graveraet building.
"We always viewed ourselves as a silent partner with the school." he said. "I think this project is a very important one. I think it is important for a lot of reasons."
Kaufman said the district's current budget crunch will necessitate a school closure in the not-so-distant future. Graveraet might be the first to go.
"Removing the fifth grade from Graveraet and its proposed alternative use will lead to its eventual closure, probably soon rather than later." he said.
After the decision, Retaskie said that although he disagreed with the motion, he would work with the other board members to reach future solutions.
Rossway agreed with Retaskie's final sentiments.
"I just wasn't really comfortable with making that decision but, like Tony (Retaskie) said, we've made it and we're going to move forward and embrace the decision and hopefully it's going to work out for Graveraet," he said.
Claire Abent can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.