By Sal LaFata
Meridian Times staff writer
Last year, the hot topic with the Okemos Public School Board was whether to close two schools; this year it was what to do with said schools.
This topic was debated during the Okemos Board of Education meeting in the Community Conference room in the Administration Center at Central Elementary School on Monday, Jan 24.
After closing both Edgewood Elementary and Wardcliff Elementary schools due to economic problems, The Facility Use Committee was formed to decide how to use these buildings and vacant land.
This committee was composed of people ranging from parents, to college professors, to Federal Government workers. The group worked together and debated many topics that are relevant to the district right now, the biggest of which was what to do with the former elementary schools.
“Everybody in the group talked about being fiscally responsible. Whatever we ended up with, coming out of that committee, it had to be minimally budget neutral and hopefully have a positive impact on the financial status of the district,” said Catherine Ash, superintendent of Okemos Public Schools.
The main recommendation for the two former elementary schools was to convert them into either an activity center, community education center, or a senior citizen center. These recommendations are only ideas at this time though, they will not move any further until the school board makes a decision on the direction to go.
Since closing, Edgewood has started to be used more for early childhood programming and Community Education offices. The committee was in favor of continuing that use of Edgewood, because of the financial implications of moving and updating everything.
“We’re trying to use that building as much as we can,” said Dr. John Zappala, a member of the Facility Use Committee.
When it came to Wardcliff, the committee leaned more toward the activity center, community education center, or a senior citizen center.
Ether Onaga, a professor at Michigan State University on the Facility Use Committee, said there is great potential for an activity center in the Wardcliff building.
An activity center would bring events like athletics, classes, tutoring and computer resources to the former elementary school. It would have great potential to overlap services and programs so many people could benefit from the center, according to the committee.
“I would just ask this board to support our recommendations for how to best use the vacant building,” said Molly Woodgrove, a Wardcliff area resident.
At the end of the meeting, no decisions were made. However, the topic is still up for discussion, and a conclusion is in the making.
“We are hoping for a long-term solution, we are hoping to minimize the negative impact on the neighborhood and immediate area, we were hoping to maximize the positive impact for the district the neighborhood and the township, we were hoping to promote educational or related uses. We wanted to allow it to be converted back to an elementary school if needed,” said Ash.