Will the New Whitehills and Pinecrest Schools Be Ready By Fall?

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Gary Caldwell for ELi

Work has stopped on the new Pinecrest Elementary School under the governor's order. The work has been categorized as "non-essential."

When the East Lansing Public Schools district started this year, the expectation had been that the new Pinecrest and Whitehills Elementary Schools would be ready come the start of the 2020-2021 school year.

But now, in the face of COVID-19 public health measures, work on all East Lansing elementary schools has been halted. Although state-funded construction workers continue to fix our roads, construction work on schools has been deemed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s office to be “non-essential.”

Speaking at the ELPS School Board meeting Monday night, Superintendent Dori Leyko said that the final round of finishing work at the new Glencairn and Donley Elementary Schools is still not done, and she isn’t sure if it is going to be possible, given the pandemic, to have Whitehills and Pinecrest completed on schedule.

Leyko said that she met last week with the construction manager from Clark Construction to find out what is feasible. Leyko said that the representative from Clark indicated that if workers are allowed to return to the job in May, the new schools could still be done by the start of school if they are paid to work overtime.

If the new Pincecrest and Whitehills buildings can be completed, then demolition and reconstruction of Marble Elementary School and phase two of the Red Cedar School renovation can start this summer.

If work cannot start up again next month, decisions on how to proceed will have to be made.

A view of construction at the new Whitehills School, also stalled. Photo by Gary Caldwell for ELi.

After the meeting, School Board President Erin Graham shared with ELi a communication on the subject from Brad Banasik, Legal Counsel and Director of Labor Relations for the Michigan Association of School Boards.

In a March 30 email, Banasik reproduced material from the state indicating that the only kind of work allowed to be done at the schools is “tasks that are strictly necessary to preserve the current condition of the project while the [stay-at-home] order is in effect, such as putting in place temporary security and weatherization measures. All other in-person work on the project must cease until the restrictions of the order are lifted and normal operations resume.”

Responding to questions from ELi after Monday’s meeting, Leyko said that “ELPS did request a waiver for its current construction projects as well as the upcoming two projects to be considered critical infrastructure” – a classification that would allow work to proceed on all six elementary schools.

Leyko says the request was made on April 6. But, she told ELi yesterday, “All school construction across the state has not been deemed ‘critical infrastructure.’”

Another view of the construction at the new Whitehills School. Photo by Gary Caldwell for ELi.

ELi reported last week that the City of East Lansing has designated a number of local public works projects permissible under the governor’s executive order, and work on those construction projects is consequently proceeding. Those projects include water main work, road resurfacing, and sewer improvements.

At Monday’s meeting of the School Board, Graham said that some Marble families hope to have a chance to “say goodbye” to the old school building before it is demolished. She asked if that was going to be possible if demolition happens this summer.

Leyko responded that it’s impossible to know at this point what kinds of gatherings can happen when. She said there were many urgent things to be dealt with right now – including the Continuity of Learning plan being submitted for approval this week – and that this kind of issue would have to wait until later to be addressed.

Access ELi’s schools reporting here, and see all of our COVID-19 reporting here.

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