School Board to Sell Schoolcraft Early Elementary Building

By Sue Moore

The future of the Early Elementary school building at 300 E. Cass Street in Schoolcraft has been in doubt for nearly a year since its closing in the fall of 2016. The school board took the first steps to sell it through a closed-bid process by the first of September.

It was built in the 1930s by the WPA and has served as a Schoolcraft landmark ever since. Lots of Schoolcraft residents have fond memories of their years of attendance when it housed the school district’s K-12 classes.

Although several entities have approached Superintendent Rusty Stitt about purchasing the building, he told the board, he recommended a bidding process, perhaps with the help of a local real estate broker and an attorney. The deadline for submitting bids will be September 1 with the bid opening set for that day.

Stitt was peppered with questions on the potential sale. Board members didn’t want the building to be offered to any other type of school that would compete with the community school system. This would include a charter school, a religion-based private school or even a pre-school. A deed restriction clause might be a possibility to assure that it wouldn’t be sold to a competitor institution, Stitt said.

Right now, the building is being used for storage. Trustee Jennifer Gottschalk wanted to ensure the school would not sell the contents. “We will get whatever we can removed from the building and even sell some of the equipment that we don’t need for future classrooms,” Stitt emphasized.

Gottschalk was also concerned about setting a minimum bid or whether the board would need to take the minimum bid. Stitt promised to work out these details with the broker and attorney before putting out a bid package.

Just as important to the discussion of selling the early elementary building was a request from the village of Schoolcraft for a 53-foot easement on the east side of the school property to service the village water system’s well head on Cass Street. Trustee Jason Walther wanted to be sure the board wouldn’t be locking in the future owner of the school property with an easement that would tie the developer’s hands. “We are making a decision for this future owner by our action to grant the easement.” It was explained that a parking lot could be constructed on an easement and that the village would be responsible to pay attorney fees for a survey before any contracts were signed.

Trustees Rochholz and Mastenbrook recused themselves from the vote to approve the easement with the village. Each serves on the village council as well as the school board.

Stitt recommended waiting on another request from the village to sell property for a second well head.

Historic Schoolcraft Building Will be Open for Tours

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Standing in front of the Schoolcraft Early Elementary building that is to be sold are former students who attended school in this building with the exception of Katie Redmond who is PTO president and her son Dean in the stroller. From left to right Dr. Jack Sauer who graduated in 1949; Paige Reid, a sophomore in high school; Katie Redmond, Gabe Redmond, age 9 and going into 4th grade; Darcy Bolles a 1999 graduate; Sue Hendriksma a 1967 graduate who is secretary-treasurer of the alumni association.

By Sue Moore

Wanted: A developer with great imagination, lots of cash who will keep the integrity of a revered building in the heart of Schoolcraft and remake it into something extra special.

For those don’t have a wad of cash but would like to revisit their school years in what has become known as the Early Elementary building, the invitation is extended. The school board is offering a series of open houses in which citizens can walk through and relive part of their childhood.

“There are so many memories,” said Dr. Jack Sauer, who attended when it served kindergarten through high school when he graduated in 1949. His dedication to the school system is well known as he returned after veterinarian studies to serve 42 years on the school board in Schoolcraft.

With 14 classrooms, a gymnasium, cafeteria and offices, the building is in good condition, according to James Weiss, chief of maintenance for the school district. “The teachers and custodial staff have taken great pride in the upkeep of the building.” Population growth in the community has stalled, thus there is less need for the classroom space, according to Darby Fetzer, school board president.

The east wing with the gym was built in 1938 by members of Works Progress Administration (WPA) at the height of the depression as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal to provide jobs for one breadwinner in each family. At the time, the school board had three women and two men on it, with Mrs. Bertini Mongreig as the president.

Subsequent additions added more classrooms along Cedar Street in 1950-51. Shortly after, two rooms were added to the south end of the building where shop class took place, said Nancy Rafferty, community historian.

For those desiring a final look at the interior of the Elementary School, school system officials are hosting self-guided open house tours on the following days:

Tuesday, August 29th (during the School District Open House) Visitors are welcome to take part in the Back-to-School Open House, at Roy Davis Field (football/track stadium) from 5 to 8 p.m.  The school band will be playing, the Schoolcraft Village Re-Route Vision and Future Developments and the School District Strategic Plans will be presented.  Dinner will be provided.  A bus will be available to transport visitors to the Early Elementary from Roy Davis Field.

Friday, September 8th from 8 – 10 a.m. (Coffee and donuts provided)

Monday, September 11th from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. (Reception at 5:30 and the school board meeting will be held in Early Elementary gymnasium at 6:00).

After that, it is hoped the building will be put to good use again, said Fetzer.

Sealed bid process:

RFP released to perspective bidders – July 25, 2017
Proposal documents due by 12 p.m. on August 29, 2017
Administrative review and proposer negotiations – August 29, 2017 through August 31, 2017
School Board review and award – September 11, 2017
Due diligence period – September 11, 2017 through October 11, 2017
Closing – on or before October 21, 2017

Benches for Seattle Brewery Cut from Vicksburg Trees

By Jef Rietsma

The company spearheading redevelopment of the former Simpson Lee Paper Mill in Vicksburg have plans for the project’s first phase to include a brew pub.

Old Stove Brewing Co. currently has two locations in the Seattle area; the Vicksburg site will be its first operation outside the state of Washington. It is owned by Vicksburg native and Seattle resident Chris Moore, who also owns Paper City Development. Paper City is behind redevelopment of the project, simply called, “The Mill.”

As he has at the two Seattle locations, Moore plans to subtly incorporate a part of Vicksburg into the local Old Stove brewpub.

Greg Bjarko, an architect who works with Moore, said the tables and bench seats at the Old Stove locations in Seattle are made from wood harvested on Moore’s family property just outside Vicksburg.

It was a process that started more than four years ago, when the trees on Moore’s father’s property on VW Avenue and Moore’s property on 24th Street – just south of town – were cut. They were warehoused in the Mill for curing until the first portion was shipped to Seattle in 2016 for use in the first Old Stove brewery. The remaining 40 tons or so was loaded for shipment to Seattle in May 2017 for the opening of the second brew pub. Once in Seattle, a portion of the 40-ton load of wood was fashioned into the tables and chairs used by Old Stove patrons today.

“Chris was really excited to repurpose this lumber into what would turn out to be an artistic style of tables and benches … that connection to Kalamazoo County and Vicksburg is important to Chris,” he said. “And they turned out very nice.”

Bjarko said a pattern was used to maintain a uniform design, but no two tables and benches are exactly the same.

“The wood was harvested and rough milled in Vicksburg, where it did a lot of its drying,” he said. “It was fabricated here, then cleaned, sanded and the finish put on, and connected to bases and supports here.”

A team of four area men, including John Kern and Richard Barnes, were on hand the day in 2016 when the trees were eventually loaded onto a flatbed trailer. Once in Seattle, a portion of the 40-ton load of wood was fabricated into the tables and chairs used by Old Stove patrons today.

The wood pieces are nearly three inches thick and range from four to 16 feet in length. By design, the tables and benches are set up to create a communal seating arrangement at Old Stove. An average table can seat 8 to 12 people.

Kern said the wood includes white and red oak, cherry and quite a bit of walnut.

Kern added he is not surprised Moore went to the extreme that he did to incorporate family timber into Old Stove.

“Chris may live in Seattle but he is a Michigan guy through and through, he’s very proud of where he’s from,” Kern said. “The tables and benches may not mean as much to the people at the restaurant, but I know they represent a special connection to home for Chris.”

Tad Dallas and Louis Armstrong work for Moore, and were the muscle behind building the tables and benches.

Dallas said he is proud to have had a hand in such an integral component to Old Stove. He said what would eventually be the final product, however, took some time and effort.

“We met with Chris at the workshop and we had some really nice slabs of walnut. I remember we flipped the slabs in multiple directions, end-over-end, and we were kind of all over the place,” Dallas said. “We came up with a design that included an old steel plate that serves as the inlay piece, so what we had in the end was something that I’d say actually designed itself.”

Dallas said there is still quite a bit of wood left, though he’s not sure if the tables and benches for the Vicksburg Old Stove will be designed in Seattle then sent back to Michigan, or if the wood will be returned to Vicksburg and the furniture created here.

Bob Millard Has Fond Memories of The Mill

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Bob Millard, former mill manager in the 1970s, returned to tour the mill last summer. Village Manager Jim Mallery accompanied him as did several other community members. Asbestos has been removed from this area which was part of the dryers for the paper.

By Jef Rietsma

Editor’s note: We plan to feature people who worked at the mill in various capacities to provide some historical perspective to the potential redevelopment of the mill.

The tone in Bob Millard’s voice was unmistakably melancholic as he reflected on his 13-year stint at the former Simpson Lee Paper Mill that covered a portion of the ’60s and ‘70s.

Even after a series of promotions took him to San Francisco for another 20 years with the company, Millard said he always had a soft spot for the Vicksburg plant.

“I may have worked there during what were very likely its best years,” Millard said. “I started out in the customer-service department after having five years of experience in the paper-distribution business, worked up to middle management and eventually became mill manager for eight years.”

He said just about anyone who worked at the mill, regardless of in what capacity, will talk fondly today about what Simpson Lee Paper meant to Vicksburg and the region. Millard said through the balance of its 100-plus years, the plant was a community within a community.

“So many of the employees were local, either from right in Vicksburg or just on the fringe of Vicksburg, and so many were descendants of their parents who also worked there,” he said. “It had an impressive ethnicity … a strong Polish contingent who, along with people from all backgrounds, were the second-generation group of mill workers. It was just a very, very interesting place to work.”

Millard said its people were a significant component of the company’s strength. But it would be unfair to overlook the quality of paper the Vicksburg site produced.

He said the array of specialty papers set it apart from the 11 other mills within the company and among Simpson’s competitors. Its quality products filled a niche in a way no other mill could, he said.

“It was unique across the breadth of high-end paper,” Millard said.

Millard was part of a group that toured the 30-acre property last fall, around the time plans to convert the mill site into a multi-use parcel were being completed. Vicksburg-native Chris Moore is the owner of Paper City Development LLC and behind the project called, simply, The Mill.

The first phase of redevelopment includes a brewpub.

Moore owns Old Stove Brewing Co. in Seattle.

Millard said it was a treat to be able to walk the grounds and peer inside the buildings still standing, 15 years after the plant closed.

“It was kind of like stepping back in time …you think you see a lot of ghosts,” Millard said, recalling the tour. “I’ve seen the plans Chris has put together, I like the idea of the mill getting a second life. I just wish the project was moving faster because I’d like to be around to see the ground-breaking, at least.”

Millard, 86, returned to Michigan 20 years ago and lives on Gull Lake. He still meets monthly for breakfast with a number of retired mill employees, a gathering that features its share of reminiscing, he said.

Pausing to reflect, Millard shared a final anecdote about his time with the Vicksburg plant.

“My first boss was my kindergarten teacher’s husband … totally unrelated to me getting the job, of course,” said Millard, who grew up in the Grand Rapids-area community of Ravenna. “But thinking back to working there, no question whether you were hourly or salaried, it was a good place to work. Very fair in all aspects of the way they did business, whether it was with their customers or their employees. A real classy place.”

Next month’s issue will feature a profile of Jack Page.

Hovenkamp Transforms Brady Township Corner Property

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These buildings on the corner of Sprinkle Road and TU Avenue have undergone a dramatic transformation. A convenience store will be opening soon in the front portion of this building.

By Sue Moore

A commercial development transformation has taken place at the corner of Sprinkle Road and TU Avenue in Brady Township. Ken Hovenkamp purchased the derelict property as a personal storage place, then realized the collection of buildings was such an eyesore that he undertook to pretty it up.

The property is a cornerstone to a small commercial district that Brady Township designated in a five-year land use plan for business development. “It’s the entrance to the township along Sprinkle Road. I’ve worked with the township officials who have been very supportive. I’ve also reached out to the village of Vicksburg for ideas on possible leases,” Hovenkamp said.

The fire-engine red color scheme on the exterior was proposed by designer Lynn Russcher. She showed him drawings of yellow, green and red exteriors. Without hesitation, he chose the red, which motorists passing by on Sprinkle Road are not likely to miss.

The interiors and exteriors have been painted, cleaned and ready to be unveiled for potential lease options, Hovenkamp pointed out. There is 10,000 square feet of space, with 7,000 of it climate-controlled.

What used to be a convenience store has been refurbished to again house this type of operation. Also in the front of the building is an area that would be ripe for a resale type of store, Hovenkamp said. It then opens up to a quonset hut that once housed a gas station owned by Purcell Clark. “This would be ideal for storage or use as part of a resale shop. It’s actually very trendy right now.”

Along the south side of the building, stretching back to the west is a huge area that could function as a service area for vehicles of any type, a warehouse or even an upholstery shop, Hovenkamp speculates. “There are just so many possibilities and I don’t want to discount any idea that might come along.”

Plans are underway to resurface the parking lot before any of the buildings are leased. A large barn sits at the edge of the property with three overhead doors that also present possibilities.

One corner of the barn is set aside for a furniture exchange that Hovenkamp operates as part of his Chaplain ministry with the Portage Fire and Police Departments. He has made space for donations of appliances, TVs, and furniture for needy families and expects to give them to people he meets through the ministry.

New Dental Building for Vicksburg on W. Prairie Street

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Left to right: Jody Cole, Lori Barnes, Dr. Aaron Ford, Mary Ann Koenigsknect, Heidi Thompson, Brenda Schimp, Kris Swope, Linda Mason, and Kris McGlothlen. Employees missing from the photo: Jen Notziger, Jaime Wiard, Dana Kurtz, Diane Bugajski .

By Sue Moore

His patients and his patience are the keys to why Dr. Aaron Ford’s dentistry practice in Vicksburg has doubled in the last seven years, said office manager Kris Zonyk McGlothlen. “He is so accommodating to patients. Takes his time with everybody.”

“My assistants do a really good job,” Dr. Ford acknowledges. “They help patients feel comfortable. My challenge is to have them say when they leave, ‘Well, that wasn’t so bad.’”

To accommodate this patient growth, Dr. Ford started to think about remodeling his office at 602 W. Prairie Street in Vicksburg. What followed was inspired by knowing that Dr. Bob Dornbos, the other Vicksburg dentist, was looking to retire. “I thought, why not combine the two practices and make one nice practice for this area? I made him an offer to buy him out and in the process we will have a really cool new building that even someday might serve to attract more professionals to the community.”

For the next six months, both dentists’ patients are being seen at Dr. Dornbos’ office on 102 S. Main Street in Vicksburg while the new building is under construction. It will have seven rooms, instead of the previous four, expanding from 2,000 to 4,000 square feet. Four operative and three hygiene rooms are planned. Walt Hansen, general contractor in charge of the project, has constructed over 50 dental offices. Hanson knows what works for dentists and what doesn’t with the flow of patients. The exterior will have fieldstone on the base and vinyl shakes for siding. It is expected to be completed in January.

Dr. Ford came to Vicksburg as an assistant to Dr. Mike Carl who had purchased Dr. Jim McClelland’s practice 10 years ago. Dr. Carl also had a practice in Mendon and needed to give that his full-time attention. He offered the Vicksburg opportunity to Ford, a Texas Corners resident. His wife, Maureen, is an emergency room physician at Bronson Hospital employed by Southwest Michigan Emergency Services. They have three children, ages 11, 8 and 5. She serves on the Mattawan school board.

He grew up in Sturgis, graduating in 1995. Ford is a Western Michigan University graduate who participated in Army ROTC for four years. He earned a hitch with a dentist who was assigned to Kuwait in 2000. “I preferred the interaction with patients and wanted to get more involved in the clinical side of dentistry, so upon discharge enrolled in the University of Michigan’s dental school.”

“Much has changed in dentistry, just in the last 10 years that I have been in practice,” he said. “The first item I purchased here was a digital X-ray machine so I didn’t have to do wet developing of pictures. We don’t see crowns breaking like they used to. We have lab-fabricated crowns and bridges and the materials are harder and more reliable. Gold is nice, it lasts a long time; but zirconia crowns are white and more aesthetically pleasing than gold and last just as long as any other crown. Needles are sharper and don’t poke so hard.”

He has combined the two doctor’s staff and kept all of them on board with10 full timers, including three assistants, four hygienists and two office managers. They are accepting new patients in the combined practice. “We are thrilled that he took us all on,” said Lori Barnes, Dr. Dornbos’ dental assistant. “He takes his time with everybody. It’s just his special personality.”

“I liked Vicksburg from the beginning. It’s a great spot between Chicago and Detroit, Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids. I’m looking forward to a long future in Vicksburg and providing high-quality dentistry,” Dr. Ford said.

Village and State Officials Address US-131 Needs

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State Senator Margaret O’Brien on the left, walks along with Schoolcraft Village President Keith Gunnett on Grand Street. On the right is Mike Rochholz, a member of the village council, and State Representative Brandt Iden. Photo by Brian Freiberger.

By Brian Freiberger

With over 20,000 vehicles traveling through Schoolcraft on US 131 each day, why isn’t this village a customer destination?

The answer: speed, safety and perhaps a lack of interest.

That was the conclusion of several village and state officials walking along busy Grand street to discuss the Vision Improvement Plan, proposed to provide the village with a business-friendly and slower-paced environment.

Portage-based Wightman and Associates proposed a 12-foot wide landscaped median from Cass Street to Eliza to help slo traffic, according to Wightman engineer Jordan Parker. Grand Street, five lanes and 76 feet wide from curb to curb, is owned by the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT).

In 2005, a similar landscape median in the downtown area was removed by MDOT. Removal was to provide space for new 14-foot wide sidewalks through the downtown, said Village Manager Cheri Lutz.

A public workshop in late August or early September will be scheduled to reveal the Vision Improvement Plan.

Parker also said the plan includes the development of Cass Street into a commercial district.

The biggest safety concern is being able to cross the street safely from one side to another, according to Village President Keith Gunnett. “You don’t understand it until you walk it,” said Gunnett. Traffic signals at two marked crosswalks on opposite end of the half-mile downtown allow 20 seconds for residents to cross the street.

The separation between the narrow sidewalk and the road is just two feet. “You can feel the cars when they go by,” said State Rep. Brandt Iden during the walk. “I’ve walked down these streets and talked to a lot of people that have property here. For the business community to grow we must find a way to slow the traffic down and help people cross the streets.”

“Traffic scares off people who want to use the village. Right now, 131 is a divide right down the middle of Schoolcraft, and we need to do something to make this community safer for all,” said State Sen. Margaret O’Brien.