GHAPS adds to acreage

Krystle Wagner • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:54 AM

Grand Haven Area Public Schools is scheduled to close today on the $275,000 purchase of the land behind the high school campus. Superintendent Keith Konarska said the payments for the property will be about $30,000 a year at 1.85 percent interest rate for a 10-year payoff.

Currently, the district’s buildings sit on 266 acres of property in Ottawa County. The district also owns 100 acres in Grand Haven Township that was purchased in 1998 as a potential site of a future school. Konarska said that land was recently paid off.

The new acreage being purchased today abuts the high school campus.

“I don’t believe there’s been a better time to move forward with the purchase,” Konarska said after the school board unanimously approved the sale in November.

Donna Bylenga, the school district’s director of business services, said capital expenses often include improvements to school grounds, building construction, building additions, remodeling and equipment additions.

Capital spending makes up about 1 percent of the district’s yearly budget.

Prior to the land purchase, Bylenga said the money wasn’t planned for anything else.

Considering the purchase

This isn’t the first time this parcel of land has been eyed by the district, Konarska said.

The district looked at buying the land when the high school was built in 1997, and revisited the idea a few years later when the athletic facilities went up.

Konarska couldn’t say what the land was worth at that time, but the price tag was higher than what the school board wanted to spend.

When appraised three years ago, it was valued at $700,000.

Riverwood Company is selling the 38-acre lot. Its owner, Rob Robbins, declined comment on the sale.

District cutbacks

The property purchase comes at a time when the district is facing financial difficulties. Employees have made concessions, and district officials have called upon the state to improve school funding.

This year alone, the district is saving more than $1.9 million through contract negotiations, said Scott Grimes, assistant superintendent of human services.

In August, the union representing the district’s service staff agreed to a wage freeze, 10 percent wage reduction for food service employees, 20 percent out-of-pocket pay for health care and modifications in insurance plans.

In October, the teacher’s union and district agreed on a two-year contract that calls for health insurance concessions, a salary freeze the first year, and a 1 percent and step increase for the 2013-14 school year.

Grimes noted the contract settlements were in line with compensation other districts in Ottawa County offer employees.

“We are using that money to offset the reductions in state funding,” Grimes said.

Konarska said the land purchase comes from a completely separate fund, and wouldn’t impact day-to-day operations.

Plans for the land

There are no plans for the land.

Konarska said school leaders will evaluate options next year.

They’ll particularly be looking at figuring out a way to improve traffic flow. Traffic becomes particularly congested immediately before and after school and during events. High school traffic is currently routed to Ferris Street.

Konarska said the district has worked with the township, road commission and local law enforcement to maintain safe traffic patterns, yet concerns have been raised about peak traffic congestion.

“It should be noted that although safety and traffic flow are the key motivators behind this purchase, many other very practical uses by our classroom programs, clubs and athletic areas can be expected,” he said.

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