Gwinn schools struggle with changes

MARQUETTE – Plenty of problems remain on the table for the Gwinn Area Community Schools, including what to do with a shuttered Gilbert Elementary School and how to handle the resulting long bus routes.

The Gwinn school board at Monday’s meeting discussed the best way to manage utility costs of the empty elementary school, now that it is no longer in full use.

Interim Superintendent Stephen Piereson said it would likely be more cost effective to minimally heat the building, rather than have it winterized.

Piereson said it cost about $7,700 to heat Gilbert last year and that winterizing the school could cost between $8,000 and $10,000.

The board voted to maintain heat at the school at a minimal level. It also asked Piereson to contact Forsyth Township to inquire about reduced water rates for the school, since it is no longer being used on a daily basis.

The board also briefly discussed the issue of lighting around the building, which has already been vandalized in the short time it has been closed.

A rock thrown through a window caused some board members to think it may be better to keep outside lights on, though others argued that would do little to stop potential vandals.

The board asked Piereson to provide them with electricity costs at Gilbert and took no action on the issue.

Long bus routes continue to plague the district, as well, with the biggest issues in the Skandia area.

“My kids are so tired when the come home that they don’t even want to do anything, and this is beyond ridiculous,” said Nadeen Laurich of Skandia, whose two kids ride the bus a total of three hours daily.

Though bus routes in Gwinn have been long for years – Trustee Ron Lauren commented during the meeting on the long time he spent on the bus as a Gwinn student – this year, the district is facing “unacceptable” bus route times, Piereson said.

“Some of these routes are too long, taking too much time,” Piereson said.

Bus driver Bobbie Jacobson said the district has bought two used buses to add to its aging fleet, but it’s a temporary solution.

Compounding the issue is the absence of the district’s transportation director, who has been on extended sick leave since the beginning of the school year.

“The drivers have done great work,” Piereson said of their efforts to trim time off their routes.

The district is also facing a substitute bus driver shortage. Jacobson confirmed to the board that some drivers have been working despite having the flu because there is no one to fill in for them.

Piereson said the requirements to be a public school bus driver are stringent and make a difficult job even less attractive.

“Driving a bus is not an easy job to begin with,” Piereson said.

In other action, the board approved the hiring of Upper Peninsula Engineers and Architects to perform a building usage study.

As the district looks to reconfigure itself within only two buildings, the board is hoping to maximize the use of space within the high school/middle school complex in an effort to save costs.

Piereson also said a broken sewer pipe at K.I. Sawyer Elementary School has been fixed.

After a few weeks of work, Gwinn company Beauchamp Plumbing and Heating was able to dig out the old section of pipe – which had cracked and filled with sand – to replace it with a new section.

The break only affected sinks in the fifth- and sixth-grade wing of the building, along with a sink in the custodial closet, all of which have returned to normal use.

The board also approved the acceptance of 15 acres adjacent to K.I. Sawyer Elementary School owned by the Marquette County Land Bank Authority, though the land bank has yet to offer the parcel to the district.

A $486,385 blight elimination grant from the state was used to raze several buildings in that area, creating a green space behind the school that the board agreed was a welcome difference from the sight of vacant, run down buildings.

That money was distributed to Michigan as part of a nationwide 2012 lawsuit settlement with five of the country’s largest mortgage service providers.

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is