Traverse City News and Events

Work Progresses On New Montessori School

By Beth Milligan | Feb. 9, 2021

Work is picking up speed on a new Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) school on Franke Road, with district trustees approving a name for the school Monday – TCAPS Montessori – and contractor bids due this week, with plans to award the contracts on March 8 and start construction in April.

Timing has remained on track for the school buildout despite the pandemic, with the target still to finish construction in summer 2022 in time for students and faculty to occupy the building for the 2022-23 school year. The estimated $16 million school (pictured, rendering) will replace the existing TCAPS Montessori at Glenn Loomis school on Oak Street. Board trustees Monday approved a recommendation from the school principal, teachers, and staff to streamline the name of the new facility, with the school simply to be called TCAPS Montessori.

Bids are due today (Tuesday) for the “86,000 square feet of new construction” associated with the site development, according to the TCAPS bid package, including everything from masonry, roofing, and electrical and mechanical work to bleachers, playgrounds, and food service equipment. “We actually go out for bids of many different trades for the construction of the building, so it isn't just one bid,” explains TCAPS Associate Superintendent of Finance and Operations Christine Thomas-Hill. “Those bids will be recommended for approval by the board on March 8.” Construction is planned to begin in April and continue for the following 16 months.

The new two-story building is planned to house 22 classrooms, including two toddler classrooms, five children’s house classrooms, six lower elementary classrooms, six upper elementary classrooms, and three adolescent classrooms (the school will accommodate toddlers up through eighth graders). TCAPS Montessori will have a total capacity of 500-550 students. At a January TCAPS board finance committee meeting – where multiple renderings of the new building were unveiled – Thomas-Hill said the district had been able to accommodate a wish list of features for the building created by staff and parents, including a pod structure for classrooms, cubbies in all classrooms (no lockers in the building), a science lab, gardens and a greenhouse, a maker’s space, art/music/band rooms, and a dedicated Spanish room and itinerant spaces. The only request not able to be included was a kitchen for seventh and eighth graders, which was eliminated because of issues with health codes, according to Thomas-Hill.

TCAPS Montessori Principal Lisa VanLoo said staff have been deeply involved in selecting interior elements, including furniture, cabinetry, countertops, and flooring, as well as the colors of accent walls in their individual classrooms. “All of our staff were able to utilize their preferences within this palette to kind of personalize their own space,” she said. Extensive site work has already been completed on the property; TCAPS hired Walton Contracting last fall for $807,500 to oversee earthwork – including excavation and grading – as well as sanitary sewer relocation, storm sewer work, soil erosion control, temporary seeding, and detention basin work.

According to Landscape Architect Woody Isaacs of VIRIDIS Design Group, TCAPS is coordinating with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) on permits and plans to preserve wetlands, and is awaiting approval from Garfield Township for water, sewer, and other infrastructure permits. One notable sticking point that has not yet been resolved is the driveway access to the school. TCAPS hopes to have two driveways off of Franke Road into the school: a northern entrance that would serve as the main facility driveway and drop-off/pick-up area, and a southern entrance that would serve the younger classrooms and extended day pick-up.

The Grand Traverse County Road Commission (GTCRC) has expressed concerns about those plans, particularly the addition of a second southern driveway. In a December 17 report to the GTCRC board, Road Commission staff wrote that TCAPS was moving ahead “without foresight” regarding the traffic impacts of the school in the corridor. Those could include potential conflicts with existing developments – like Meijer and Panera Bread – as well as future growth. In the most recent January 28 board report, GTCRC staff continued to express wariness, saying the Road Commission was having its own experts review a traffic impact study provided by TCAPS for the district’s driveway proposal. GTCRC staff said TCAPS was “very hesitant to supply us with a safer plan for access and crosswalks” in the corridor.

According to Isaacs, TCAPS is “closely coordinating” with the Road Commission and is open to modifying plans to address concerns, including making the southern entrance right-in, right-out only to avoid traffic conflicts with Meijer. Isaacs also said access plans could include an “improved pedestrian crossing” at the main northern entrance with solar-powered flashing pedestrian signs to make the road crossing safer for students. Thomas-Hill acknowledged that the “second driveway on the south has not been approved by the Road Commission, but we’re working with them on that.”

The new TCAPS Montessori school is being funded through a 2018 voter-approved $107 million capital bond plan – monies that can only be spent on certain project areas, like buildings, facilities, and land. Even during a pandemic, capital bond monies are restricted to specific approved projects and cannot be spent on things like salaries or curriculum. TCAPS board members Monday approved selling $42.5 million in bonds this spring, the district’s second sale from the 2018 authorization, with the rest of the bonds expected to be sold in 2023 and 2025. Thomas-Hill noted that TCAPS is maintaining a 3.1 debt millage rate – which is “very low considering the state average is 5.4 mills,” she said – and that the district could consider going to voters for a new bond authorization in 2024.

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