Traverse City News and Events

TCAPS Montessori School Opening Delayed

By Beth Milligan | Aug. 1, 2022

The new Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) Montessori school under construction on Franke Road has hit delays – notably due to labor and state inspection shortages – that will prevent students from moving into the building in January as planned. TCAPS Superintendent Dr. John VanWagoner told the board’s finance committee Wednesday that options now include moving in after spring break or waiting until fall 2023, with the district surveying Montessori staff and family before deciding how to proceed.

TCAPS was set to start the Montessori school year on August 23, having received state approval to start early while the rest of TCAPS students begin on September 6. The early start date would allow Montessori to take four additional days off over Christmas break, with the goal of construction being finished on the new building and staff moving into the facility over the extended break. Montessori students would then begin school in the Franke Road building after Christmas break, returning on January 9 (as opposed to January 3 for other TCAPS students).

However, construction delays have put the building behind schedule, now making a Christmas break move-in unfeasible, according to staff. At last week’s TCAPS finance committee meeting, board member Matt Anderson questioned how the building’s estimated completion date – which was mid-November a month ago and is now late December – could have altered so much since the committee’s last meeting. “What changed in the last month?” Anderson asked.

According to TCAPS Director of Capital Projects & Planning Paul Thwing, two areas of the new building have contributed to delays: the gym and the A wing. “We had an issue in the gym that we had to stop contractor work in there and keep them out of the gym until it was remedied…that put them behind in that area,” he said. “And then the A wing. When you mention labor shortages, it’s not just the laborers and contractors up here. It’s also the state of Michigan getting out and doing timely inspections. You’ll be going along in an area, calling for inspections, and they don’t happen. So then we can’t continue in that area until that inspection is completed…A wing and the gym now are what are driving (us) past that November date that we had given you.”

TCAPS Associate Superintendent of Finance and Operations Christine Thomas-Hill added that even if the building was completed in December, she was still uncertain of furniture delivery and installation dates and timelines for going through state inspections for licensed child care. “That’s not a quick process,” she said. “Overwhelmingly, inspections have put us back a lot. They’re short-staffed at the state, and/or we get new people that inspect it just a little bit differently. We’ve had to make some changes.”

The delays mean there are now two options for how to proceed, according to VanWagoner. In the first scenario, Montessori students will start the school year early on August 23 as planned, but spring break instead of Christmas break will be extended by four days, allowing TCAPS to move into the new facility over spring break. Students would then start in the new building on April 10. That option would mean Montessori and other TCAPS students would have the same Christmas break schedule.

In the second scenario, Montessori students would have the same start date as other TCAPS students – September 6 – and the same school year, including breaks. The move-in to the new building would then occur over next summer, with Montessori students starting at the school in fall 2023. VanWagoner noted that scenario would likely be disappointing for current eighth grade Montessori students, because it would mean they would never occupy the new building. However, even if Montessori families agree to start early this year and try for a spring break move-in, there are no guarantees construction will be finished, with staff and students having to accept the risk they could have an altered school year schedule and still not make it into the new building.

TCAPS administrators and board members agreed the delays were frustrating. However, with students required to receive 180 days of education in a school year, VanWagoner said there weren’t any other options for adjusting the schedule besides aiming for an extended spring break or delaying the move-in until next fall. With an August 23 start date just a few weeks away, staff said they would survey Montessori staff and families immediately – with that survey already being distributed this week – and then decide how to proceed.

TCAPS board member Andew Raymond said he believed staff and families should have the final say on which option to pursue. “I think they’re the ones that are going to be impacted the most,” he said. “They’re going to have way more input than I would have any say in it.” VanWagoner agreed, telling The Ticker that TCAPS administrators will accept survey responses until August 5 and then make a decision “based on survey (input) from parents and staff.”

When completed, the 84,000-square-foot new building will house students currently at Glenn Loomis attending TCAPS Montessori. The school serves 500-plus students from ages 18 months through 8th grade. The new building will be built to accommodate the Montessori method of teaching, which requires more square footage than traditional education. Developed by Italian physician Dr. Maria Montessori, the Montessori concept is based around student-led and instructor-guided learning, with multi-age classrooms where individual students follow their own curiosity at their own pace. Amenities in the new building will include a two-level library, a large band and orchestra room with practice rooms, and a maker space for STEM and art activities.

Photo credit: Traverse City Area Public Schools

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