Gwinn school board considers future building utilization

MARQUETTE – The Gwinn Area Community Schools Building and Site Committee on Wednesday began looking at possible uses for the former Gwinn Middle School gym and how best to reconfigure the district.

The committee – comprised of school board trustees Bill Nordeen and Joe Boogren and Secretary Cindy Filizetti as chairwoman – discussed possibly moving the district to one centralized campus in Gwinn.

That idea offered two options: Build an addition onto the middle/high school complex or purchase the former Gwinn Middle School back from current owner Art Nordeen, remodel it and use that building.

The committee agreed any type of solution would likely require the district to go to voters with a millage request or bond proposal.

Bill Nordeen said he was concerned asking for money to build a new addition could be a hard pill to swallow for the community, and that renovating the old middle school may be a more viable option. He said the community would likely want the district to “make do with what you have.”

The committee agreed any decision would have to come after a comprehensive study of building usage and the financial costs of possible solutions. Opening discussion at the meeting centered around the possibility of working with Forsyth Township and Art Nordeen to use the gym in the old middle school, which was sold in 2011.

With the closure of Gilbert Elementary School in April, the district – which already had problems with less than adequate gym space – is finding itself in serious need of another gym.

“It needs to be addressed quickly,” Bill Nordeen said.

Jane Nordeen, who sits on the Forsyth Township Board and attended the committee meeting – said though she could not speak for the entire board, she thought it was a good idea to have a community gym open to the public.

The old middle school, according to school board President Gloria Bigelow, who also attended the meeting, was sold because it needed major repairs the district couldn’t afford.

To address that issue, Bill Nordeen offered a solution: The township pays for an upgraded heating and water system for use solely by the gym and surrounding hallways and bathrooms and enters into a lease with building owner Art Nordeen to open the gym for public use. From there, Bill Nordeen said the school district could sublet the gym from the township, so it could have sole access during certain times of the week.

Because the district is in dire financial straits, Bill Nordeen said it could not afford to pay all at once for the needed upgrades the building would require to reopen.

“Maybe what needs to happen is the township needs to step up and enter into this contract with Art Nordeen,” said Bill Nordeen, who is Art’s cousin.

He also discussed the possibility of having Upper Peninsula Engineers and Architects conduct a study on the facility to assess the full cost of bringing the gym up to current standards for public use.

Following discussion, the committee and community members in attendance took a walking tour of the high school, led by building principal Kevin Luokkala.

They learned what rooms are used by which teachers, and discussed how many hours each room is used every day.

The committee wanted to learn how many rooms could be condensed to possibly make room for other grades, if the district decides to reconfigure itself into one K-12 complex.

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.