Traverse City News and Events

TCAPS Eyes Selling Bertha Vos, Webster Administration Building

By Beth Milligan | Aug. 9, 2022

Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) trustees voted Monday to solicit offers for the vacant Bertha Vos Elementary School and the district administration building on Webster Street through a public request-for-proposals (RFP) process. Trustees want to explore whether the sites can be put to better community use, notably housing that could benefit TCAPS employees – but emphasized the RFP process doesn’t commit them to selling either property if the bids or circumstances aren’t right for the district.

Also at Monday’s meeting, TCAPS Superintendent Dr. John VanWagoner announced that the new Montessori school will not open until next fall – with families and staff voting to keep a regular schedule this year with other TCAPS students and wait to move until next school year – and that four schools that serve as polling stations could potentially move to virtual instruction on Election Day as a safety precaution.

Property Sales
TCAPS will put out an RFP this week to solicit purchase offers through October 26 for Bertha Vos Elementary School and the district administration building on Webster Street.

The move comes after TCAPS received several unsolicited offers in recent years for various district-owned properties, including a $730,000 offer from the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians this spring to buy the Bertha Vos building in Williamsburg. The site was most recently appraised at approximately $500,000. Trustees said that Bertha Vos in particular – sitting vacant in a township experiencing little to no growth in its school-age population – was an ideal property to sell. However, several board members said they wanted to go through a formal process – one shaped by input from legal counsel – to consider multiple offers for the property and ideally select one that would maximize its value and community use. Trustees voted 6-0 Monday to use an RFP process to solicit bids for the site, with Trustee Sue Kelly absent.

Trustees also voted 5-1 Monday to issue an RFP for the district administration building on Webster Street, recently assessed at about $3 million. The aging facility has significant cost challenges and inefficiencies, and TCAPS has long mulled selling or redeveloping the building and moving the district’s print shop – located in the building’s basement – and 40-50 staff to another location. That could include the Sabin Data Center on Cass Road or Glenn Loomis on Oak Street, once Montessori has vacated that building (see below). TCAPS Board Secretary Josey Ballenger was the sole ‘no’ vote against issuing an RFP for the administration building, saying it was too early and there were “too many moving parts” as to where staff would go if the building sold. Chief among those moving parts is the potential reconstruction of Central Grade School, a high-priority project coming down the pipeline that could involve temporarily moving students to Glenn Loomis. Ballenger said an administration building RFP should be “saved for a later date” and issued once there was a “holistic property plan” in place for Sabin, Central Grade, Glenn Loomis, and other facilities.

However, other trustees said that better understanding their options for the administration building could help shape such a property plan and allow the board to plan more strategically for the future. “I would like to know what even the ballpark options are,” said Board President Scott Newman-Bale. Trustee Matt Anderson agreed, saying he was particularly excited about the possibility of one or both properties being converted into housing, which could benefit TCAPS employees. “This is a good process to at least go out and see what the interest is from the community or developers on this,” he said. “We may get zero (offers). We may get 10. It's hard to know exactly what the interest is…I feel like it's a good idea to see what's out there.” Both staff and trustees emphasized that an RFP does not obligate TCAPS to sell either property, with trustees expected to review offers later this fall and decide whether to accept, reject, or negotiate any bids on the table.

Montessori Opening Delayed Until Fall
With labor and state inspection shortages delaying construction progress on the new Montessori school on Franke Road, TCAPS won’t be able to open the school to students in January as planned. Montessori students were set to start their school year early on August 23, then take a prolonged Christmas break to accommodate the move-in and start in the building on January 9. With that plan no longer feasible, TCAPS surveyed Montessori families and staff last week on whether they wanted to still start the school year early and take a prolonged spring break, potentially moving into the new building on April 10 if it’s ready, or just delay the move-in until next fall and have a normal school year with other TCAPS students this year starting September 6.

According to VanWagoner, of 281 families who responded to the survey, 81.3 percent supported going back to a normal school year and moving into the new building next year. Of 47 employees who responded, 97.7 percent also supported that option, he said. “A pretty overwhelming response at this point for us to announce from a calendar standpoint that we are going to align with the rest of the district with a post-Labor Day start, and we will move into the building the following school year,” VanWagoner said. He added that TCAPS was still awaiting an official letter of agreement from the teachers’ union to go back to a normal schedule for Montessori this year, but expected that approval was imminent. For current eighth grade Montessori students who will graduate this year and never get to occupy the new building, VanWagoner said the district is exploring options – like a field trip or tour – that will still allow them to experience the new site once it’s completed.

School Safety: Election Day, Doors
Finally, school safety came up as a topic under multiple agenda items at Monday’s meeting. VanWagoner said TCAPS is surveying the families of four schools that are used as local voting precincts – Traverse Heights, Montessori at Glenn Loomis, Long Lake, and Westwoods – about whether they want to have in-person school on Election Day with a possible police presence or move to virtual instruction. November 8 is scheduled as an early release day, which would remain the fact regardless of whether instruction is in-person or virtual, but security is a concern with in-person instruction due to the influx of voters in school buildings.

VanWagoner said initial survey feedback showed a “pretty strong response” from parents of wanting to move to virtual instruction that day, in addition to feedback from law enforcement who said it would be challenging for them to maintain a presence at all four schools due to staffing shortages. The survey remains open to families until Wednesday, with VanWagoner planning to make a decision after that point. He noted there have been discussions among local officials about eventually moving precincts out of schools entirely, but said such a transition would likely take time.

TCAPS trustees also authorized spending up to $200,000 Monday to repair and replace doors on school buildings throughout the district. VanWagoner said staff have “checked and mapped every single door” at all TCAPS schools and flagged those that are deteriorating, that don’t open or close properly, or that otherwise need to be fixed up or replaced. He said the district is now maintaining a confidential master list of those doors and will be working to address as many of them as possible before the school year starts.

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