Construction Resumes on ELPS Schools, with Demolition of Marble School Imminent

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Gary Caldwell for ELi

Marble Elementary School is currently ebing rebuilt. Marble students will use the Old Donley building this school year.

With Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s most recent executive order having cleared the way for construction work to resume throughout the state, crews got busy this past weekend by installing protective fencing and concrete barriers around Marble Elementary School in preparation for demolition.

Meanwhile, after a delay of work that lasted several weeks, the new Pinecrest and Whitehills Elementary Schools are expected to be done on time for the new school year – good news if children are allowed to return to their school buildings come fall.

East Lansing Public Schools Superintendent Dori Leyko provided a brief update on the construction at last night’s School Board meeting. She told the board that construction work is now taking place at all six ELPS elementary sites.

Leyko said the new buildings at Pinecrest and Whitehills will be ready for the start of 2020-21 school year. She did not say whether the delays would cost the district overtime – a possibility she previously mentioned. (School Board members asked no questions about the construction work at any of the buildings or about the costs.)

Exterior work at Donley and Glencairn resumed last week. Those schools have remained incomplete in terms of exterior finishing following a dispute with a subcontractor. A new subcontractor was hired months ago to complete the job, but progress has been slow.

Workers at Donley School this week, installing finishing material. (Gary Caldwell for ELi)

At Marble, teachers and staff are in the process of packing up their belongings and “will be mostly done this weekend,” Leyko said. Staff access to the building is expected to end next week, with demolition of the structure on schedule to be starting this month.

As previously planned, the population of Marble School will move to the old Donley School while a new Marble is built – a situation that doesn’t thrill some Donley parents who are weary of disruption at their campus.

The entrance of the new Donley School has yet to be completed. (Gary Caldwell for ELi)

Because Red Cedar will no longer be needed as a “swing school,” that building will see some construction work soon in preparation for it eventually housing K-5 students. The superintendent’s plan has been to have it house at least pre-K and K-3 classes starting with the 2020-21 school year, with addition of a 4th grade in fall 2021 and a 5th grade in 2022.

Funds for the construction of the schools is coming from a $94 million bond narrowly approved by district voters in 2017.

Staffing is being evaluated for all the buildings, and Leyko hopes to have that plan finalized by the end of this month.

Fencing is up at Marble Elementary School in preparation for demolition. (Gary Caldwell for ELi)

During his budget presentation to the Board last night, ELPS Director of Finance Rich Pugh pointed to plummeting of revenue at the state level that likely will lead to extensive funding cuts for ELPS and other Michigan public schools districts. The extraordinarily fast and large revenue drop is due to the economic shut-down undertaken in the face of the virus known as COVID-19.

Pugh said the pre-pandemic draft budget anticipated staffing increases of totaling over $300,000, a figure that would include needing to install a new principal, a new school secretary, and custodial staff to operate Red Cedar as a sixth elementary school. Now the district is looking at a budget with millions less in funding.

A Bond Committee work session will be held at 10 a.m. next Thursday, May 21, at which time Leyko expects to discuss school site updates and related finances in more depth. That meeting is open to the public via Zoom, but Leyko told the Board that citizens will have to individually write to her to obtain the password if they want to listen to or participate in the meeting.

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