Clare County Review & Marion Press

Bond project, mural costs reviewed at BOE

Clare Superintendent Jim Walter shows the present campus and a rendering of what the campus would look like if the bond issue passes in May.

By Pat Maurer

A discussion on the proposed bond to renovate Clare Schools was the highlight of Monday’s Board of Education meeting.
The agenda said, “The Board has authorized the continued efforts of the Superintendent, Tower Pinkster, and Wolgast toward a May 2, 2023 bond issue. The Board of Education may take this opportunity to discuss the project, input from community members and staff members, and the removal/cleaning/reapplication of the Gerald Mast WPA Murals on loan to the District in the Middle School Auditorium.”
At the board’s July meeting representatives from Wolgast Derek Rickett and Joe Powers and Steven H. Hoekzema of Tower Pinkster discussed options for a bond issue with the board.
Possible proposals discussed at that meeting included a new high school; renovations to the current high school to serve as a middle school and site improvements. Superintendent Jim Walter noted that the BOE was in the process of purchasing property next to the bus garage to expand the campus and provide additional parking if a new high school is built to the west of the present building.
Hoekzema said, “We have talked about an environment for kids to be successful…a robust physical environment.” He said to “add a new high school and connect it to the old high school is an early concept with demolition for the Middle School.
Rickett said the project’s preliminary budget is estimated at $48 million plus sitework, and the conversion of the present high school to a middle school, for a total of approximately $68 million.
Funding options: $58 million would equal 4.28 mills; $10 million would equal 1.23 mills; and $68 million would equal 5.64 mills.
Powers spoke about three proposals at that meeting:
1.      A new high school, converting the old building to a middle school and accompanying site work.
2.      A new auditorium (only with a new high school).
3.      Both a new high school and new auditorium combined.
According to information from Superintendent Walter at that July meeting, “The potential impact on taxpayers can be reduced by .87 mills with the Board paying off a portion of previous debt through its general fund balance, which has been reserved for capital projects.  The Board has pursued this avenue because a new building would require less maintenance than the current middle school, freeing up those current maintenance funds to better serve the community by reducing the tax burden.” 
Hoekzema said, “The next step is to take it to the community, refine the plan and provide options.”
What to do to save the Gerald Gast WPA murals in the Middle School, on loan from the federal government has been a big community concern.
A new bond issue for Clare Schools could mean demolishing the ancient Clare Middle School.
To do so would mean the WPA Pioneer murals would have to be taken down from the Middle School Auditorium walls and reinstalled in a new location.
On display in the Clare Middle School Auditorium are several art pieces created during the Works Progress Administration (WPA) of the 1930’s and 40’s which paid artists to create art for public facilities. Besides the mural in the U.S. Postal Office, the Clare Middle school houses four immense murals painted by Grand Rapids artist Gerald Mast and dedicated to the school in 1938.
These murals are thought to be the largest in existence in the world, after being compared to many, including murals in the Federal Building in Chicago. Thousands of artists were given work through Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration, created in the mid-1930s to give work to the many people that were out of work due to the Great Depression. The WPA took almost 3.5 million people off government assistance and gave them work, including 5,000 artists, some of whom worked on murals.
Today, the giant murals in at the Clare Middle School are valued between $20 and $30 million.
Scott Haskins with the Fire Art Conservation Laboratories spoke at the August 15th Clare Board of Education meeting outlining a project for the possible removal and relocation of the Depression Era murals at the Clare Middle School.
Removing them from the CMS auditorium and restoring them in another location would cost an estimated $300,000, according to the earlier board meeting.
In his report to the board Monday, Walter said, “The quote from Fine Arts Conservation Lab has been received at $458,381. It has been forwarded to the General Services Administration (Fine Arts Program) of the federal government with a request for funding.” He added, “A second conservator, listed by the GSA as a preferred vendor anticipates the cost of the project will be much higher than the figure quoted.”
At Monday’s meeting, Walter told the board that 9 & 10 News had interviewed him about the murals. He said, as a result of that interview, which recently aired, U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow had contacted him to offer her help in raising the funds needed to save the murals – removal, cleaning, restoration and reinstallation).
Walter said there were about 30 who attended the first of three “community forums” the first held this month to find out what district voters want. In his report to the board, he said those who attended “listened to a presentation and then shared their feedback.” He added, “Additionally I held a morning forum for coaches September 8th, met with the Rotary Club on September 14th and with the staff on the 19th.
Two more community forums are scheduled, one on October 19 and one on November 10 both at 7 pm in the high school cafeteria.
“In December,” he said, “we go to treasury to authorize the project.
Board President Ben Browning, who attended the forum this month said, “I was surprised that those present wanted a single issue on the ballot rather than multiple issues.
During Public Comment John Harper asked the board, “Is there a possibility of selling the Middle School building instead of demolishing it? Walter replied that he had not heard of any interest locally.
He added, “We need to find out what our retirees, those in high-end homes or those who no longer have children in school, think about the bond project.
In another matter, the board heard a presentation by Tara Mager, the new Superintendent of the Clare-Gladwin Regional Education Service District. Supt. Mager, who, using a power point presentation, briefly outlined the services, from preschool to students and adults, that the CG-RESD offers to the five school districts and the communities it serves. Explaining what they do, She wrote, “We provide crucial educational services and support to local school districts in Beaverton, Clare, Farwell, Gladwin and Harrison – services they might not receive otherwise.” She said, “We like to consider ourselves the Swiss Army Knife of education.” She noted that the CG-RESD recently received a $15 million grant for technical education. “Our goals are community support, both ongoing and new.”
The BOE also held the first reading of three proposed policy changes:
6320 – Purchasing: languages changes adding bid cooperatives to the purchasing procedures as long as they are fair and open and resulted in a bid award to the lowest responsible bidder.
6440 – Cooperative Purchasing: (same as 6320) emphasizing the processes used by a cooperative to obtain reputable bids.
9150 – School visitors: adding recent changes required by amendments, approved by the Governor to the Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA). The revision is for technical compliance and does not substantively affect the administration’s right to impose conditions on visits by such individuals. It does change the responsibility for decisions from school principals to the Superintendent.
Two new teachers were approved by the board: Special Education Teacher at the Clare Primary Edward Mason; and Clare High School Science Teacher Jennifer Quick.
Sophomore Abby Isaac and Laura Ahac were present at the meeting to report on the development of a new club, “Turning Point USA,” which would stimulate interest in current events, candidates, voting and promote voter registration. Walter said he would like to meet with them to discuss it further.
In his report, Walter noted that the district has retained its “A” credit rating with S & P. He also reported that the current enrollment is approximately 1,614 students, 60 students higher than the spring count. The official fall count date is October 5th.
Several bids for the new Turf Building at Brookwood Park were approved.
The board also approved bills payable totaling $144,075.35.

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