Category Archives: Schoolcraft

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

elem 8
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

Village and State Officials Address US-131 Needs

Photo Jul 13, 4 18 25 AM
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.

First Public Meeting of Schoolcraft Elected Officials

sch officials 8
Schoolcraft Township elected officials were well represented at the July gathering of locally elected officials. From left to right: Supervisor Don Ulsh; Treasurer Teresa Scott; Trustee John Stodola of the Schoolcraft Village Council; Trustee Greg Feldmeier of the Schoolcraft Township board.

By Sue Moore

The 22 local elected officials and administrators, meeting for the first time as a group, agreed that Schoolcraft’s future growth is predicated upon obtaining sewer connections, at least down U.S. 131 for businesses. What they also agreed in unison, is they like the small-town atmosphere and didn’t want that feeling to change if it meant too much growth.

Representatives from the school, the village, Schoolcraft and Prairie Ronde townships were asked to meet together by Superintendent Rusty Stitt, to consider the future for each entity and how they could work together to solve problems for the community.

“The most important take away from the meeting was that building trails and a sewer system would be the key to attracting new residents,” said Kathy Mastenbrook, representing the village and the school board.

Each representative of their unit of government, reviewed what they were doing to plan for growth and yet, keep it in check. Don Ulsh and Barry Visel, Schoolcraft Township supervisor and planning commission member respectively, noted that the township was the second fastest growing entity in Kalamazoo County after Texas township. The planning commission’s land use plan seeks to control where the growth will occur by limiting businesses to the U.S. 131 corridor and making sure that the rural agricultural low density on the land will stay in tact. It does envision higher housing density on the borders of the village. “We don’t see a lot of big developments on the horizon, Visel said.

The village of Schoolcraft is land-locked with only small parcels to build upon, Cheri Lutz, village manager, noted. The recent visioning plan that will reflect the village’s core values will be finalized in July has lofty goals and some that are very doable as it looks 20 years out, she said.

“Downtown property values are receding because there are no sewers for the businesses,” Greg Feldmeier, said. As a township trustee, he sat through several hearings on whether sewers should be built around the lakes and in the village. Village Trustee John Stodola cautioned, “we are talking about a lot of investment here. The council is trying to protect the poorest segment of the population.”

School board Trustee, Jennifer Gottschalk challenged the township and village officials to just go ahead and approve the sewer construction. She was quickly answered by Trustee Mike Rochholz. “We can’t dictate but we do need to educate and have an understanding of how this would help.”

Jason Walther, school board trustee, offered that lots of people are turned off by the word growth. “In my mind it’s about sustainability. Our school enrollment is tied to having sewers. I didn’t realize that until this discussion.”

As an example, Teresa Scott, Schoolcraft township treasurer said she and her husband had to build a house in Vicksburg because there was no land available in the village suitable for them to build upon.

Trails are the number one issue for people moving into the community, Ulsh said. We are talking with Three Rivers and Portage about a trail going north and south to connect these two entities.

Other ideas for better communications between the four groups represented at the meeting, included a central hub for finding volunteers to act as a clearing house. Stitt volunteered to look into this possibility as a school sponsored initiative and to initiate quarterly meetings with the four units of government. Stoboda, commented on the “great base of talent here, especially the library volunteers who have rallied around a cause. They are the most active volunteer group in the community.”

Remote Control Planes Fly at Klines Resort

RC Planes - Robert Barton, Darrell Davis, Ron Jones -2
Robert Barton, Darrell Davis and Ron Jones with their remote-controlled airplanes. Photo by Brian Freiberger.

By Brian Freiberger

It was a calm July evening at Kline’s Resort. An RAF Mosquito, a British two-engine fighter-bomber, was flying overhead. Its altitude: about 50 feet. Wing span: about two yards. On the ground below, Ron Jones was controlling the battery-powered scale model aircraft on its maiden voyage.

A group of residents at the resort buy and assemble remote controlled (RC) airplanes just to see them soar for a few hours on a calm night. Although there are six or seven residents of the resort flying on some nights, just three, Robert Barton, Darrell Davis and Jones, were flying on this night while smiling, laughing and shooting the breeze.

“When I have that plane in the sky all of my thoughts are with the plane. All that white noise from everything else in life is gone and it’s kind of therapy,” said Barton who has been living at Klines for the past 10 years.

Ken Allen, a retiree of Kal-Aero Flight Instruction in Portage, started the activity at Klines 12 years ago, according to Barton. Allen passed away in July. “If it wasn’t for Ken we wouldn’t be flying at all. Ken was the driving force behind the airfield,” said Davis who has been flying at Klines for the past two years. Klines has dedicated the five-acre field in memory of Allen.

There are thousands of different models of RC planes. Although many have been made from lightweight balsa wood, in the past decade many have been made out of foam. This has become more popular because foam is even lighter and more likely to crush instead of shattering, making for easier repairs of the aircraft.

Planes and accessories can range from $100 to $5,000 depending on size. The cost includes the pre-built aircraft with major components such as propellers, removable wings, and landing gear and accessories such as the batteries and radio equipment that controls the plane.

The Klines residents only fly with battery-powered planes. “It was important to Ken that we don’t use the field for gas-powered planes,” said Davis.

Davis, a retired Air Force sergeant, has been flying RC planes since 1976. “Staying in the proper perspective is the most difficult thing about flying these planes. You have to keep your eye on the plane at all times.” It is difficult to judge perspective because the pilot is on the ground instead of the cockpit, making it tough for pilots to see where they are going.

Jones talked about controlling the RAF Mosquito model aircraft. “You don’t know what it is going to do when it takes off.” After the plane landed Jones recalled shaking from the nervousness and excitement of its maiden voyage.

“When you get old you don’t realize how relaxing it is to be out here,” said Barton about the experience.

On the Corner

By Sue Moore

There are lots of moving parts in our two villages’ downtowns to report on this month.

Schoolcraft Vision Plan Nears Completion

Schoolcraft is wrapping up its Vision plan for downtown with a final public session scheduled for August 29 during the school’s open house from 5-8 p.m. at the Roy Davis football field.

It’s a hugely ambitious plan for Schoolcraft that is being presented to the public by Jordan Parker of Wightman & Associates. The company has been the guiding light behind what has been called “Reroute”. The next step will be in the hands of the Planning Commission as it takes the next five to six months to update the Master Plan and the ordinances which accompany it. Revision of the ordinances are the keys to implementation of the Vision plan, Parker said.

Changes in Downtown Vicksburg

It isn’t exactly musical chairs but several buildings have been bought and sold over the last few months. Brian Pitts is moving his insurance office from E. Prairie Street to 123 S. Main in a building he purchased from Evie Hall, owner of Home Again Consignments.

Across the street at 120 S. Main, Matt Bolton’s Edward Jones Investments has leased and remodeled a large space from Rudy and Fawn Callen. The building on 328 W. Prairie Street that had been the home of Bolton’s business has been purchased by Attorney Craig Rolfe with plans to move his practice from Kalamazoo.

The sad announcement that Hill’s Pharmacy at 110 S. Main closed at the end of June has left the first block of Main Street on the west side with a gaping hole. For the time being, Dr. Aaron Ford is occupying Dr. Bob Dornbos’s dental office at 102 S. Main for six months and then it will become available for lease or purchase. Next door to that is Ruthie’s art shop which closed last year. The owner, Skip Knowles, has a rental sign out and expects to possibly open it as a resale furniture store.

The Dek, formerly The Vault on W. Prairie looks forlorn this summer as owner Bonnie Granado closed it up in January. The liquor license has been sold and the building itself has a big for sale sign tacked out front.

Some good news is that the Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center (VCAC) will be moving to 101 E. Prairie for a short time and thence to 103 E. Prairie in the former Doris Lee Sweet Shop.

Julie Oswalt Makes a Move to WMU Medical Center

Brett Grossman of Grossman Law said goodbye to his long-time assistant Julie Oswalt recently as she has accepted a position in Kalamazoo as the Pediatric Residency Coordinator of Western Michigan University’s Medical School. She will fit very well into this new and exciting challenge for her, now that her two daughters are off to college.

John Fulton Has Surgery for Cancer

John Fulton, this newspaper’s religion writer for the last four years was diagnosed with his fourth form of cancer, this time in the lung, on his annual visit to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. The doctors took out a portion of his lung and he is back in Vicksburg, riding his motorcycle and promising to beat this enemy, yet another time.

A Letter to South County From Our Summer Intern

intern 2
Brian Freiberger at the Fulton Memorial Day parade.

By Brian Freiberger

Ever wonder how we end up where we are right now?

I think that every day because six months ago, I would have never guessed I would be spending my summer writing for the South County News, just from a simple hand-shake and hello.

It was late January at the Michigan Press Association Convention in Grand Rapids. While listening to a lecture about digital media, I peeked behind my shoulder and saw a silver haired woman whom I didn’t know at the time. I’m normally a reserved person who doesn’t speak to a lot of people, but I decided to go introduce myself to her. She turned out to be Sue Moore. Little did I know that five-minute conversation would lead me on a three-month adventure that would shape me as a person and as a journalist.

The conversation with Sue led to my arrival in Vicksburg as an intern for the newspaper.

For the first time in my life I lived on my own hours away from family and friends in a foreign place where I knew absolutely no one. When I arrived, I was welcomed with kindness and open arms from the community.

I’m from the village of Onsted in Lenawee County, but I never learned how it operated until I came here. I’ve covered village council, school board and other various meetings. It has been an eye-opening experience to see how decisions are made that affect a community. Sometimes these meetings are boring, but the people who are in these positions invest hundreds of hours serving the community. I recommend that people attend these meetings, and see how you can help the community in a positive way.

One thing about both communities that stood out to me the most is the amount of volunteering that occurs. I believe these communities are special because of the selflessness from people not caring who gets the credit, but ready to sacrifice for the betterment of the community.

I don’t know where this road we call life is taking me, but I see myself in a few short years working for a media publication traveling the world writing and photographing what I see. Although there are many steps that follow this, South County has shown me what it takes to be a quality journalist in today’s world.

But for now, I’m going back to Olivet College to apply what I’ve learned here on the journalism craft. I have another immediate goal – to help my team capture a third consecutive Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association football championship.