Traverse City News and Events

TCAPS Votes To Sell Thirteenth Street Property, Include Glenn Loomis But Not Central Grade In Bond

By Beth Milligan | Aug. 15, 2017

Twelve new homes could soon be coming to vacant land in Central Neighborhood after Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) board members voted Monday to sell district-owned property on Thirteenth Street to a developer. Board members also voted to include the reconstruction of Glenn Loomis in a planned August 2018 bond proposal, but will leave the reconstruction or relocation of Central Grade School to a future vote further down the road.

After issuing a request-for-proposals (RFP) earlier this summer seeking bids on four vacant properties owned by the district, board members reviewed three sealed offers Monday. A $50,000 bid for nearly 80 acres on Potter and Four Mile roads was rejected for being too low. Two other properties, an 80-acre parcel on Cedar Run Road and a 40-acre parcel on Church Road, did not receive any bids.

But 1.8 acres used for Thirlby Field overflow parking on Thirteenth Street (pictured) attracted competing bids from two Traverse City-based developers. After initially making a $700,000 unsolicited purchase offer to TCAPS for the property in May, Socks Construction submitted a lower bid of $600,000 through the RFP process. The company stated its goal was to build 13 single-family, Craftsman-style homes on the site “priced starting in the $350,000’s.” 

Owner Roger Send of Cornerstone Affordable Homes, however, significantly outbid Socks Construction, submitting an offer of $851,000 for the property.  Send is proposing to build 12 single-family homes featuring two-car garages on the site. Despite his company’s name – as well as past discussions by officials of trying to bring affordable housing to the site – Send tells The Ticker that land and construction costs mean the homes would be market value, likely in the $350,000 to $450,000 price range. Send says multiple generations of his family grew up in Central Neighborhood and that he wanted to offer that experience to other residents.

“My dad was born inside a home on Tenth Street in 1913, so we go back over 100 years in that neighborhood,” he says. “I spent the first 20 years of my life there. As a kid, I grew up walking to the ice skating rink, watching games at the stadium, playing on the fields, and walking downtown. I want to make (these houses) nice and give somebody else the same opportunity I had.”

While both developers proposed similar projects, the price gap in their bids prompted board members to approve a sale to Cornerstone. TCAPS Superintendent Paul Soma will finalize a purchase agreement with Send that will come to board members for sign-off at a future meeting.

TCAPS board members Monday also voted to include the reconstruction of Glenn Loomis – which houses the district’s Montessori program on Oak Street – in a planned August 2018 capital bond request.  The district’s last successful bond campaign was in 2007, when voters approved a 3.1 millage rate to pay for bussing, technology, building maintenance, visual/performing arts programs, athletic facilities, and the reconstruction of Long Lake and Eastern elementary schools. Funds from that bond are soon set to run out.

Board members will not pursue a millage increase in 2018 but instead keep the same 3.1 rate, which is 2 mills below the state average of 5.2 mills. The bond request will raise an estimated $97 million over a 10-year period to pay for capital projects including bus replacement, technology upgrades and instructional support, high school STEM/robotics labs, physical education/athletic facility improvements, safety and security upgrades, the removal of the district’s storage garage on Fourteenth Street, and the reconstruction of Glenn Loomis. The last project – identified as the most urgent facing the district – has been pegged at $16 million, though Associate Superintendent of Finance & Operations Christine Thomas-Hill cautions exact price estimates have yet to be finalized.

Board members Monday wrestled with whether to also include the reconstruction or relocation of Central Grade School in next year’s millage request. Soma said addressing the aging facility wasn’t as urgent as Glenn Loomis, but that “within the next seven to ten years, we know we have to take action on the building. We know it can’t last forever.” Board members have discussed options including renovating all three floors of Central Grade to modernize the facility, or abandoning the building and building a new school elsewhere, such as on Fourteenth Street. Preliminary rough estimates for those options range anywhere from $16 million to $33 million; TCAPS has yet to go through a formal public planning process to determine which direction it will take with the school.

With those details still unclear, multiple board members worried including Central Grade in the bond proposal would cause the public to focus exclusively on plans for that school – raising controversial questions about its future that couldn’t be answered before next year’s election. “We don’t have the time to answer that before the next bond election, and I don’t want to put Glenn Loomis at risk,” said board member Scott Hardy. Board Chair Erik Falconer added that voters rejected previous TCAPS bond proposals because they viewed the district as “overreaching,” saying the “risk of failure is catastrophic” if board members took on too much and voters rejected a proposal next year.

Board member Jan Geht, however, advocated for the path of pursuing a longer-term bond of 15 or 20 years that could cover Central Grade – as well as any other capital projects that might arise – saying voters needed to trust TCAPS had a long-term plan and would use the funds appropriately for needs as they came up. “It’s about giving the school system the flexibility to not constantly have to beg for finances,” Geht said.

But other board members, leery after past voter rejection, reiterated their desire to have a clear plan for projects the bond proposal might cover. “I am not comfortable going into any election asking the public to spend their tax dollars on something that I can’t articulate what it’s going for,” said Hardy. Soma said including Central Grade in the 2018 millage request was a “risk-reward” proposition, one he didn’t support. 

Board members ultimately agreed to go through the public process of determining the future of Central Grade before putting the question of funding to voters. The decision leaves open the possibility the school could return as its own separate bonding request several years down the road.

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