Back in 2011, the possibility that the Lansing Board of Education might build a new high school and shut down Lansing Eastern or Lansing Sexton initially sparked outrage among the alumni of both schools. Now a new task force has been tasked to help the board make a decision by December, raising questions about whether the conflict will erupt again.
Much of the opposition has died down in the many months since the initial idea was floated. However, Steve Manchester, who was a part of the Save Our Sexton campaign to protest the possible closing, said that if talk of closing the schools starts to get more serious, there will be an uproar of support for the schools once again.
“If they come to a decision and decide to build a new high school and close Sexton or Eastern, there will be a very loud backlash against that,” Manchester said. “(The alumni) are ready to be very active and involved if there is serious discussions about closing those two schools or building a new school.”
Lansing School Board member Myra Ford understands the support for the schools as she herself is a ’64 graduate of Sexton, but she says that love for her alma mater will not stop her from doing what she believes is best for the district.
“As much as I love my high school, I could say yes,” said Ford. “If the recommendation was to close Sexton high school, I could say yes to that. I could say yes to closing any high school if the dealing was it was the best choice in order to provide better options and to save the money we need to save to use for educating our students.”
Are buildings outdated?
One reason the board is considering a new high school is that both Sexton and Eastern have outdated buildings. Both schools have been around for over 70 years, with Sexton opening in 1943 and Eastern founded in 1901.
“There are numerous things that would need to be done to those buildings to bring them back to the kind of condition that we would like them to be in,” Ford says. “When you start looking at that kind of situation, it doesn’t seem to make sense to spend that kind of money to bring a building back.”
Manchester believes that there is no reason the current buildings cannot be updated to meet today’s technological standards though, saying that all over the world buildings much older have been able to be restored.
“The argument that a school building such as Sexton or Eastern is so old fashioned that you can’t do modern things with it, I just don’t buy that,” Manchester says. “Places like Europe are very up to date, and they are dealing with structures that are centuries old.”
Nancy Wonch, a lawyer who teaches at Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School and who serves as president of the Lansing Educational Advancement foundation, was on the restructuring committee for the school district back in 2011. She said that the committee back then did not endorse closing the schools.
“The committee I was on examined what should be done about the issue that were confronting in the schools district regarding all of their facilities,” Wonch said. “And the result was a series of recommendations to the school board which did not include closing Eastern or Sexton.”
Wonch said she believes that the support for the two schools in the community will prevent them from being closed.
“You have to get the voters to approve the building of a new high school,” she says. “The building of buildings depends on the wealth and the willingness of the members of the community to support the building of the new building, and I think it’s unlikely that you’re going to get that kind of support from this community.”
When it comes down to it, Wonch says that the emotional bond between an alumni and their school is just too strong.
“It’s true that the building is old,” she said, “But you have got a lot of people who are loyal to the school, and they don’t want to see that success, that history and that legacy die.”