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Mixed reaction to possible school closure

ESCANABA — The reaction to the possible closing of Soo Hill Elementary School has been mixed. No one likes to hear a school may be closing, but with declining enrollment, upcoming maintenance issues, and the school district operating within its budget, some residents understand why.

“I think it’s disappointing that the school might close. But as soon as the school millage got voted down, what did people expect to happen? Money has to come from somewhere,” said Escanaba resident Hunter Mahood.

At one time, the Escanaba School District included 10 elementary schools — Pine Ridge, Cornell, Washington, Jefferson, Wells, Ford River, Franklin, Webster, Lemmer, and Soo Hill. Currently, Lemmer and Soo Hill Elementary schools are remaining, along with Webster Elementary, which is now Webster Kindergarten Center. The only closed school the district is currently maintaining is Washington.

“Washington school is the only one that the district still owns, maintains, and uses for storage,” said Escanaba Area Public Schools Director of Operations Amy Cseter.

It is not known when Pine Ridge Elementary was closed exactly, but it was sold in August 2005. Cornell Elementary closed in the spring of 1993 and sold to Nelson Logging. Washington closed in June 2000. Jefferson closed in June 2002 and was sold to the Community Action Agency in 2005. Wells Elementary was closed in June 2003 and sold to Northern Lights YMCA last June. Ford River Elementary closed June 2004 and sold May 2010 to Franklin Stenberg. Franklin Elementary closed June 2010 and sold to Thomas Fillman in March 2012.

The owners and the use of the buildings may have changed since the school district originally sold them.

“I guess I haven’t given it much thought as I’m not affected by it. However, I think it’s sad that it has even become an issue. I hate to see any school close,” said JoAnne Johnson, an Escanaba resident.

In November 2018, Escanaba Superintendent Coby Fletcher first mentioned to the Escanaba School Board that closing a school may be one way of saving money, if the school district could continue to provide the same programs and level of service in fewer buildings. After a year-long analysis by Fletcher the board was presented with his recommendation to close Soo Hill Elementary and a plan detailing why and how.

The ball is in the board’s court now. Fletcher has presented options through the year and has left it in their hands. The final decision is planned to be announced in December.

“If they have to close one I would rather it be Soo Hill rather than the junior high (Upper Elementary),” said a previous Escanaba resident.

“I’m just happy they’re keeping the U open. It’s closer to my house so easy for the kids to walk to,” Escanaba resident Amber Morreau said.

Closing a school facility is only one of the ways the school board is finding ways to save money in the budget. Rental rates of school facilities were reviewed and changed to reflect the current inflation rates from the 1970s. School properties are being reviewed by the board to sell surplus or unused properties.

“I think it’s ridiculous. My parents went to Soo Hill. I went to Soo Hill and my son went to Soo Hill,” said Escanaba resident Rhonda Hebert. “Where are they planning to put all the kids? My son is in robotics and they have told him they will have to move the robotics room to the MTEC building. What about the parents who don’t want their children to go into Escanaba and would rather have the hometown feel of a school. I don’t think all the kids from sixth grade to 12th will be able to fit in the high school building.”

The Escanaba Area Public School District will hold a community forum to discuss the district’s potential reconfiguration Tuesday, Nov. 12, from 6 to 8 p.m. The forum will be held in the Courtyard room at the Escanaba Upper Elementary located at 1500 Ludington St. Community members are encouraged to attend and bring their questions and feedback.

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