Gwinn town hall; Unified school campus focus of meeting
By CHRISTIE MASTRIC
Journal Staff Writer
GWINN — The goal of having a single K-12 campus for Gwinn Area Community Schools was the focus of a Wednesday Modeltowner Town Hall meeting at the Gwinn Middle/High School.
Local residents, officials and GACS staff gathered to discuss what they’d like to see in the coming years for the district.
Superintendent Brandon Bruce laid out possibilities to the audience, stressing that it’s becoming difficult to operate three buildings — the middle/high school as well as Gilbert and K.I. Sawyer elementary schools — because of needed upgrades. The total current enrollment for these schools, he said, is 988.
“We’re at a point where we’re looking at the continuing needs to maintain the buildings,” Bruce said.
Bruce noted that the middle/high school building needs a library redesign, another gymnasium, a science room upgrade, and work on the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.
The Gilbert Elementary building needs lighting replacement in classrooms and hallways, replacement of exterior doors, and replacing or upgrading the HVAC system.
Bruce said the Sawyer Elementary building has similar upgrade needs.
He estimated that the schools’ upgrades would cost between $17 million and $23 million.
Bruce addressed the issue of where the school district goes from here.
“It’s not a new conversation of a central campus,” Bruce said.
He pointed out that from an operational standpoint, GACS is not going to be able to financially sustain three buildings. Trying to do so could zero out the school district’s fund balance within four or five years.
“A change needs to happen,” Bruce said. “What does that look like?”
Bruce supports the idea of one K-12 campus.
Schools, he noted, have a special place in the Upper Peninsula.
“I think it would be great for this community,” he said of a single campus. “Ultimately in the small towns that we grew up in, that we live in the U.P., the school district is the focal point of any small town. There’s a lot that goes on. It’s more than just a school. It’s a community center. It’s a community place.”
Bruce said that to fund a single campus, a bond issue would be required, and that would have to go to the voters.
He said one option would involve moving fifth graders into the middle/high school, which could happen as early as the 2023-24 school year, and eventually move all students in kindergarten through fourth grades into one of the grade schools.
However, the project could involve ultimately creating the single campus to house all K-12 students.
Bruce gave a possible timeline should a proposal get on the November ballot and voters pass it.
“Your construction is probably a minimum of two years before you’re ready,” he said. “At that point what the transition would be — K-4 in an elementary building, 5-12 in this building– and then once the construction is completed, that transition to a K-12 facility,” he said.
If voters do not pass the bond issue, the school district would have to reassess the matter, he said.
“What can we change? What can we bring that obviously the community would agree to and move forward with?” Bruce said.
In 2020, voters approved a sinking fund millage for GACS after two previous attempts failed. The millage creates a fund for things such as construction or repair of school buildings, school security improvements, the acquisition or upgrading of technology, and the purchase of real estate for sites for school buildings.
“You and your board need to remember that,” Forsyth Township Supervisor Joe Boogren said.
Although he acknowledged he’s in favor of a K-12 building, Boogren said there doesn’t seem to be a plan.
“It feels like we’re going to do a piecemeal move, a piecemeal move and another one, and then hope that at the end of the day there’s a handy-dandy barn dance and we raise enough money to build a building,” Boogren said.
He suggested that the school district present the issue to the community in a “positive fashion” since the project is an investment.
In his presentation, Bruce said an addition to the middle/high school would cost between $22 million and $24 million. The millage request would be for 3 to 3.5 mills for a 30-year bond, which for a $200,000 home would cost the homeowner about $300 to $350 extra per year — a high estimate, he said.
Bruce also stressed a reduction in staff has not been part of current conversations.
He said another public meeting on the school district’s future will be scheduled.
“This community has always supported each other,” Bruce said. “There’s never a doubt.”
Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is email@example.com.