Roosevelt Elementary School in Keego Harbor has been considered for closure by the West Bloomfield School District. The building is over 100 years old.

Roosevelt Elementary School in Keego Harbor has been considered for closure by the West Bloomfield School District. The building is over 100 years old.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Residents object to possible closing of 100-year-old Keego Harbor school

By: Mark Vest | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published January 7, 2021

 The district may decide as early as August whether or not to close Roosevelt. Some Keego residents have objected to the possibility of the school being closed.

The district may decide as early as August whether or not to close Roosevelt. Some Keego residents have objected to the possibility of the school being closed.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Advertisement

KEEGO HARBOR — According to Keego Harbor resident David Emerling, there was a “huge amount of uproar” when people learned that the West Bloomfield School District was considering closing Roosevelt Elementary School, which at over 100 years old is the longest continuously operating school building in Oakland County.

The district may opt to go from its current five elementary school configuration to four, with either Roosevelt, which is located in Keego Harbor, or Scotch Elementary School in West Bloomfield being the most likely to close.

“Everybody’s pretty up in arms on this,” Emerling said. “Keego residents are (beside) themselves. They don’t even know what to do.”

Emerling has had two children attend Roosevelt, but he said that doesn’t have anything to do with his opposition to closing the school.

“I know how much it impacts our city, with those 85 kids that walk (to school), watching the kids play on the playground and enjoying that school year-round,” Emerling said. “It has to do with how much that is part of our city. It’s the anchor to Keego.”

In an email, a WBSD representative shared communication that was sent to families following a Board of Education meeting Dec. 14.

“As you may be aware, the West Bloomfield School District’s Board of Education has been studying how to operate our schools and school district more efficiently while simultaneously maintaining and enhancing quality educational opportunities for all of our students,” stated Superintendent Gerald Hill. “This action has been taken based upon several factors, including recent demographic data showing a steady decline in the enrollment, funding uncertainty created by the economic crisis related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the excess capacity currently present within our five elementary schools. The Board of Education received the School Efficiency Study Task Force report and recommendations at the December 7th Special Board meeting. … Several factors were highlighted that require additional information and consideration for the board to make a fully informed decision on whether or not and how to move from a five elementary school configuration to a four elementary school configuration.”

The communication went on to state that August is targeted “for completion of the updated District Facilities Master Plan, with board decisions to follow.”

According to Kirsten Sonneville-Douglass, who has a child enrolled at Roosevelt, Keego residents were “duped” back in 2017.

At that time, she said, there was a bond that the district wanted to get passed to “right-size the school district, combining two middle schools into this brand-new, state-of-art middle school.”

According to Sonneville-Douglass, district officials allegedly took Roosevelt off the “chopping block” in order to increase the chances of voters approving a bond.

The bond ended up passing, with Sonneville-Douglass and other Keego residents supporting it at the time.

“They took Roosevelt off the chopping block (and) promised to put renovations and monies into it when the bond passed; fast forward, they haven’t,” Sonneville-Douglass said. “Keego Harbor residents feel duped, or a bait and switch. You said you were going to and had no intention of following through.”

From Hill’s perspective, there were no guarantees made that Roosevelt wouldn’t be closed.

“In 2017, the discussion was whether to use Roosevelt or Abbott (Middle School) to house the Roosevelt Elementary programs,” Hill stated via email. “That discussion led to the decision to keep the programs at Roosevelt rather than move them to Abbott once the new middle school was open. There was not a discussion in 2017 about consolidation of elementary schools, so no assurances about that possibility were given.”

Hill also shared his reasoning as to why Roosevelt isn’t receiving the funding some would like for the school.

“The scheduled improvements to Roosevelt were planned to take place during the summer of 2021,” he stated. “Given that the board is now considering a potential consolidation of elementary schools, those scheduled improvements have been placed on hold, pending a final decision on the consolidation.”

Emerling shared a document of an efficiency study that was conducted by the WBSD that provided scores for each of the five elementary schools in the district.

With multiple factors taken into consideration, overall, Roosevelt scored the lowest of the five schools.

In the areas of “future capital needs,” “facility age” and “compliance with current educational facility specifications,” Roosevelt scored a 1 out of 5.

However, Roosevelt’s score of 4 for “pedestrian viability” was the highest of the schools, with its 4.6 score for “operating cost” being the second highest, behind only Doherty Elementary School in West Bloomfield.

From Emerling’s perspective, Roosevelt’s age makes it historical, and he thinks it should get special consideration.

As for the school’s condition, in an email he sent to Hill and the school board, Emerling wrote, “(Roosevelt’s) score on facility condition was the lowest of all, but you did not spend any of the promised bond money on fixing it.”

The possibility of Roosevelt closing has also gotten the attention of a local official, as District 5 Oakland County Commissioner Kristen Nelson introduced a resolution to the Oakland County Board of Commissioners “urging (the) West Bloomfield school board to provide additional opportunities for meaningful public input regarding the potential closure of Roosevelt Elementary School.”

Part of the resolution states that Roosevelt is a “historic building that is critical to the cultural heritage and community identity of Keego Harbor.”

The resolution also addressed the 2017 bond, stating, “The West Bloomfield school board must address the concerns of local residents regarding the alleged failure to expend funds from the $120 million bond proposal as promised in 2017.”

If Roosevelt were to close, from Emerling’s perspective, one of the negatives would be the distance students would have to travel to get to wherever their new school may be located.

“These little kindergartners would be on a bus for three to five miles every day, each direction, which to me just doesn’t make sense,” he said. “I grew up where I walked to my elementary school. … It’s just weird that they think that’s a good idea to bus these little kids all this distance. But that’s allegedly what they’re thinking about.”

Each of the other four elementary schools is located in West Bloomfield.

Emerling and Sonneville-Douglass said they don’t want either Roosevelt or Scotch to close.

“According to them (the district), everything changed from 2017 (to) 2020 because, allegedly, the population has dropped to the point where they can’t keep all five elementary schools open,” Emerling said. “They talk about that there’s a bunch of people leaving the district, and open enrollment in other districts. The point is, instead of spending money on studying closing what school, they should be spending money on finding out why people are leaving the district, not going to West Bloomfield, and try to get those people back. That’s what fills the seats — not closing schools.”

Sonneville-Douglass shared her rationale for why Roosevelt should remain open.

“Because it’s a center to the community, where children are able to walk to it,” she said. “When the school district says, ‘We’re thinking of what’s in the best interest of the kids,’ putting more kids in the classroom isn’t in the best interest of kids.”

Sonneville-Douglass said she is fighting because there needs to be “transparency” and “integrity.”

“I hope they realize that the constituents aren’t happy,” she said. “I would implore them to do their due diligence.”

Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society Office and Activities Coordinator Cory Taylor hosted an open house on Roosevelt’s 100th anniversary last year. She weighed in on the potential closure of the school.

“Besides the fact that the building is 100 years old, the bigger part of it is that it’s community based. It’s a fixture in Keego Harbor,” Taylor said. “The memories around it are so ingrained in so many community members of Keego Harbor. … Even if the school district doesn’t use it for school purposes, if the building stays there and remains part of Keego, I think that’s the most important part.”

For Emerling, Roosevelt is more than just a building where children go to school.

“We’re just a small neighborhood, and the heart of the neighborhood is Roosevelt,” he said. “It’s the core of our city, and if that building closes after 100 years, it would be a shame.”

Advertisement