By Tori Zackery
Entirely East Lansing
Members of the Red Cedar neighborhood voiced concerns over the closing of the Red Cedar Elementary School at the joint East Lansing City Council and Board Meeting on Monday, March 21.
In February, the school board unanimously voted against reopening the school, despite previously approving the motion in December. The decision caused widespread disappointment among those who felt the elementary building was an integral part of the Red Cedar neighborhood.
“We were very excited at the plans that came forward earlier in the year,” said former city council member Kathleen Boyle. “We were very disappointed that those plans were met with so much objection and rancor and we’re disappointed that we can’t go forward with those at this time.”
At the time the elementary school was being considered for reopening, the school board announced plans of beginning “innovative educational programming” at the building. More than $500,000 was approved from the 2016 budget to reopen the school and while this thrilled many in the community, more than 700 people petitioned against it. Boyle, who attended the Monday meeting as a representative from the Red Cedar Community Association, said she hoped the negative response wouldn’t deter the school board from putting the building to good use.
“It is one of the neighborhoods in East Lansing that first-time homebuyers can afford to buy homes in and for that reason it is a neighborhood that’s important to nurture,” said Boyle. “Having a school there or some other public educational purpose at that building will help the neighborhood and I think will help the city of East Lansing.”
Other community members at the meeting were worried that the dismissal of Red Cedar Elementary was part of a closing school movement in East Lansing. Fred Jacobs, a resident of the neighborhood, mentioned that the closing of Red Cedar follows the closings of other East Lansing schools, such as Bailey Community and Spartan Village Elementary.
“You perhaps get the sense that when people voted to close a school or supported the closing of a school or opposed the reopening of a school, they did it because they don’t believe in neighborhood schools,” said Jacobs.
Jacobs added that the lack of concern stemmed from those motivated by self-interest or those only active in their own neighborhoods.
Kathy Jacobs, also a resident of the Red Cedar neighborhood, voiced that families were leaving the area due to the absence of a local school.
“Closing the school has already changed the mix of the neighborhood with several families moving out, even though it’s one of the most affordable places to live,” said Kathy.
According to Kathy Jacobs, the vacant houses have become rental properties for college students, transforming the dynamic of the neighborhood.
“I’m afraid this trend is saying to families who especially care about the environment that, ‘No, you can’t live in the city, you must move to the suburbs and drive a car,’” said Kathy Jacobs. “I don’t really want our town to become like Ann Arbor where everybody has had to move out.”