By Rosemary K. Otzman
Jule Schwartz of Jackson was chosen as the contractor that will tear down Elwell Elementary School.
His low bid was $123,000. The school district added $50,000 to the project for owner-directed abatement for hazardous materials and $12,300 for owner-directed contingency costs, for a total of $185,300.
All the costs will come from the Sinking Fund approved by voters for fixing up buildings and school sites.
The Van Buren Public Schools Board of Education voted 6-1 at Monday’s meeting to accept the low bid and add-ons, with Treasurer Sherry Frasier voting no.
Frasier had tried to get the item removed from the agenda earlier in the meeting, but was unsuccessful. She said she wanted the board to delay action until they could see if the district could save the taxpayers the demolition cost by offering the building to Sumpter Township or other groups for other uses.
She also had asked for an appraisal on the property to see if it was worth more with or without the building.
But board members wanted to move forward.
Mary Ban of Sumpter spoke in the 2-minute time period allowed for the public to comment before the main part of the agenda.
She said she called Gov. Snyder asking about whether five people could vote to demolish a school building after 50 years of the property owners paying taxes.
“People are very angry at you,” Ban said to the board. “People are not going to vote for your issues.”
She asked the board where they are getting the money to pay for the demolition and Frasier replied “the sinking fund”, but newly elected president Brent Mikulski explained board members to do not answer questions from the audience and, “Your two minutes are up.”
Ban left the microphone and people in the audience clapped for her. She stated, “You won’t get an answer.”
“You can ask a question, but you won’t get an answer,” a lady called out.
Mikulski said the answer could be in the minutes of the last meeting if Ban wanted to check.
When the Elwell item came up on the agenda, Paul Wills of Plante Moran, who is advising the district on plans for use of the Sinking Fund, said the project was advertised for bids and 22 people came to see Elwell School during the Jan. 2 pre-bid meeting.
He said 13 bids were received on Jan. 4 and publically opened. Jule Schwartz’s bid of $123,000 was the lowest bid and Dore was the highest at $218,800. Davenport of Belleville bid $205,000.
Wills said $200,000 had been budgeted from the Sinking Fund. Schwartz was a qualified bidder and had done other similar jobs.
Wills said Van Buren is not alone and other districts are demolishing closed buildings.
Martha Toth, who had just lost her position as board president and was now vice-president, said to the audience, “We do listen to our constituents once we join the board… We make decision best for the district as a whole … We are not thrilled to be making you so angry … Just because you didn’t get what you want doesn’t mean we haven’t listened to you.”
In other business at Monday’s meeting, the board:
• Approved the employer termination of custodian Ronny Brice after 1.5 years as of Jan. 8;
• Approved the terminations of the following teachers: Andrea Brennan of McBride with 14 years of service as of Nov. 30 for personal reasons (Brennan pled guilty to sending a picture of her breast to a 15-year-old student and she now is on the Sex Offenders’ List); Brooklyn Dobis after 4 years at BHS as of Nov. 30 for other employment; Melissa Benson a 1-year ancillary teacher as of Jan. 10 to pursue education; and Lynn Bradley after 12.5 years at BHS as of Jan. 8 for personal reasons;
• Approved employment of Stephanie Gomez at McBride as a Spanish teacher starting Jan. 17; Mylah Ivory at Owen as a social worker as of Jan. 7; Tiffany Rybicki at BHS for special education as of Jan. 7; and Khaii Mason at Owen as Math Intervention teacher as of Jan. 14;
• Approved the second reading and adoption of NEOLA Policy updates to stay in compliance with state law or attorney general’s opinion;
• Was informed that regular board meetings will be videotaped for showing on cable as of the next meeting and the meetings may be able to be shown live. Before the board moved all meetings out of the high school during construction the board meetings had been cablecast by students;
• Heard Supt. Van Tassel give an update on building security. He said emergency plans have been in place for several years. He told of staff training, school drills, an armed city police officer on site, and locked doors. Van Tassel said the district is in the process of buying door monitoring systems for the four elementary schools, Owen, and McBide, so a secretary can see (on recorded video tape), talk, and buzz in a visitor. Those will cost a “couple thousand” for each school, he said. He is also looking at erecting security wall barriers in the corridors between the student body and the office, as one more safety barrier. The high school has a top-notch security system, he said. “The problem becomes what is reasonable without turning it into a prison,” Van Tassel said. “Everyone’s struggling and, again, there’s no easy answer”;
• Cancelled the Jan. 21 work/study session because of the Presidential Inauguration that day;
• Heard two bus drivers accuse the board and superintendent of not standing behind the transportation department employees. They invited the board and Van Tassel to ride on one of their buses to see what’s going on. Lorrie Grzych and Jane Caldwell told of many things going wrong in their department, including the firing of bus drivers who try to keep the students in order and the firing last Friday of the new transportation director John Bojanowski who had been on the job just 17 weeks. “The children have taken control,” they said after the meeting, noting sometimes when a student is written up for misbehavior, the student’s family goes to the administration building and doesn’t tell the truth and the driver gets fired; and
• Went into executive session pursuant to Section 8(h) of the Open Meetings Act, which states: “To consider material exempt from discussion or disclosure by state or federal statute.”
By Rosemary K. Otzman