Keego Harbor Mayor Rob Kalman let it be known that he is not OK with a recommendation to demolish the Roosevelt Elementary School building in Keego Harbor at a West Bloomfield School District Board of Education meeting Sept. 18.

Keego Harbor Mayor Rob Kalman let it be known that he is not OK with a recommendation to demolish the Roosevelt Elementary School building in Keego Harbor at a West Bloomfield School District Board of Education meeting Sept. 18.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

WB school board recommends demolishing Roosevelt Elem.

‘Planning is key, especially when faced with declining enrollment in our district’

By: Mark Vest | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published September 28, 2023

 Some individuals who attended a West Bloomfield School District Board of Education meeting Sept. 18 were not pleased when learning that a recommendation to demolish the Roosevelt Elementary School building in Keego Harbor was approved.

Some individuals who attended a West Bloomfield School District Board of Education meeting Sept. 18 were not pleased when learning that a recommendation to demolish the Roosevelt Elementary School building in Keego Harbor was approved.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


WEST BLOOMFIELD — Roosevelt Elementary School in Keego Harbor has been the subject of controversy for years, and the saga took another turn at a West Bloomfield School District Board of Education meeting Sept. 18.

The meeting at West Bloomfield High School was attended by multiple residents and focused on whether to pass eight recommendations from the district’s Strategic Visioning Committee.

The recommendations were to convert all four elementary schools in the district to kindergarten-grade five buildings; close the Roosevelt Elementary program at the end of the 2023/24 or 24/25 school year, depending upon enrollment and reduction of School of Choice; create preschool space at Sheiko Elementary, which is on the south side of the district, and Abbott, which is in the north; demolish the Roosevelt building and playground; move the district’s Magnet Program to Scotch Elementary; move administrative and community service staff to Abbott; keep the current administration building for preschool and district storage throughout the 2023 bond; and plan for a future bond initiative that includes a new K-5 elementary at the Abbott site to serve students on the north end and new educational spaces at West Bloomfield High.

The Board of Education passed the eight recommendations 5-2.

Deborah Evans and Carol Finkelstein were the members who voted against the recommendations, with Julie Beaty, Stacy Brickman, Nelson Hersh, Ashleigh Davis and Wm. Art Holdsworth voting in favor of the recommendations.

The issue that brought most attendees to the meeting and drew the biggest amount of attention was the recommendation to demolish Roosevelt, which is located in Keego Harbor.

Students who previously attended that school have been going to Abbott since a roof collapsed in an unused room at Roosevelt last year. Abbott previously operated as a middle school in the district.

The Strategic Visioning Committee was made up of members of the Board of Education and educators, according to a press release issued by the district. Materials for a meeting agenda item list: Superintendent Dania H. Bazzi; Brickman; Beaty; Davis; Christy Forhan, who is a past board member; Eric Whitney, who is the district’s assistant superintendent of talent development and management, according to his LinkedIn profile; Christie Bueche, who is the district’s director of finance, according to LinkedIn; Jamie Stottlemyer, the district’s assistant superintendent of facilities and operations, according to the district website; Johanna Mracna,  the assistant superintendent of school administration and innovation/interim talent development and management; Scott Long, the district’s assistant superintendent for learning services; Sonja James, the executive director of educational equity and inclusion; and Kendra Montante, the district’s former communications director and the current director of communications and strategic initiatives for the Troy school district.

The release states that since April, the committee has collected and analyzed data, with the culmination of that work leading to the recommendations approved by the board Sept. 18.

“The Strategic Visioning Committee was tasked with planning for the future of WBSD, while considering long-term sustainability, fiscal responsibility and facility planning,” the release states. “As a District, West Bloomfield must look to the future, and planning is key, especially when faced with declining enrollment in our district, county and state.”

Bazzi shared some of her thoughts.

“We understand the importance of including the input and ideas of the residents and families of WBSD and specifically Keego Harbor,” Bazzi stated via the release. “This was not an easy recommendation to make and we understand the emotions surrounding the decision. However, it’s crucial to clarify that listening to the community does not always mean we can fully agree with every perspective. It is important to remember our focus is education, and we are educating students for their future and not our past.”

Roosevelt is over 100 years old and holds a special place for some in the Keego community.

At the meeting, residents were given an opportunity to address the board, with the majority voicing opposition to the recommendation to demolish Roosevelt.

Some of the comments addressed to board members focused on a desire to sell the building to a developer who can repurpose it for something that benefits the community, as opposed to demolishing it.

“The message has been 100% unanimous and crystal clear. If you have no use for Roosevelt, sell the beautiful, historical building in the heart of Keego Harbor to a developer who can and wants to renovate it,” one resident said at the meeting. “We are WB. We are your community. We are your constituents and taxpayers. You are spending our money. You asked for our feedback and our input, so tonight, please listen to it.”

Another speaker shared what he believes is one of the district’s concerns.

“What’s interesting about historical redevelopment is, in Michigan, Republicans and Democrats, everybody supports it — everybody has in their community some old building that means something to them, and when these buildings are saved, everybody feels good about it, and when they’re demolished, something is lost,” he said. “I can understand part of the concern the school board has because there’s a law that’s passed, you’re aware of it, that says if a governmental entity owns a building … and a charter school wants to buy it, they’re compelled to sell it. If this building becomes a charter school, there could be two or 300 kids taken out of your school system. Each kid gets what, $9,000 or $10,000 from the state each year? So, you’re talking about a loss to your school system of $2 million or more a year — year after year after year.”

That same speaker offered what he considers a viable solution.

“Sell the school immediately at a very nominal fee to a community group that might be established tomorrow morning,” he said. “You got smart attorneys; they could do it. They can create a nonprofit. … And then when this nonprofit entity finally markets it for the maximum amount possible, the clause says the school board gets the funds. You get your cake and eat it too.”

Following the meeting, Holdsworth shared with the Beacon that there is still a possibility Roosevelt could be saved.

“Even though this motion passed, there’s still that period of time that a solid, fully comprehensive redevelopment proposal could be submitted to the board,” he said. “Dr. Bazzi said that any viable redevelopment proposal could be brought to the board, so the clock is ticking now, is what I’m saying. The building’s not being taken down tomorrow. There’s that time period now, so if anyone really wants to do that, then they better get moving.”

Without an accepted redevelopment proposal, it is expected that Roosevelt will be demolished sometime next summer.

Holdsworth explained his rationale for supporting the recommendation of the Strategic Visioning Committee.

“Because of all the hard work that the committee did,” he said. “They’re the ones that did all the analysis. They’re the ones that came up with these recommendations. As a board member that wasn’t involved in that, I can’t second-guess them. I have to trust their opinion, that these eight recommendations they brought forward are the right ones.”

Some residents who spoke at the meeting conveyed how meaningful the Roosevelt building is to the Keego community.

“I’m deeply, deeply saddened that there’s the possibility of demolishing this beautiful and historically valuable building,” one resident said. “It’s been the heart of the community for over 100 years. … In 2017, Keego Harbor voters overwhelmingly supported a bond that promised $3 million to renovate, restore (and) repurpose the Roosevelt building. If that had been properly used, I suspect that any issues that confront Roosevelt today would have been addressed.”

One resident said that he has a master’s degree in structural engineering, and stated that the building is structurally sound.

Another resident stressed the level of support that exists to save Roosevelt.

“Keego Harbor officials and citizens have put in countless hours clearly spelling out to the school board that we will be crushed if you demolish our 103-year-old historic building in the heart of our little city,” the resident said. “We accept the fact that our elementary school will be eliminated, but don’t demolish our building.”

Keego Mayor Rob Kalman was among those who spoke at the meeting. He said he’s not OK with the Roosevelt building being demolished.

“I’m not OK with (it), nor are any of my fellow council people,” Kalman said. “I think we’ve heard from people tonight, and developers in the audience — the building can be restored and repurposed. … The building does hold a special place; it’s got history. … Take some time to talk to developers.”

One of the speakers at the meeting was a fourth-grade student.

“I have been at Roosevelt since I was in kindergarten,” she said. “Everybody there is super nice, and I do not like them to leave. … It’s the best school I could ever go to and everybody’s nice there.”

Oakland County Commissioner Bob Hoffman also addressed Board of Education members at the meeting.

“I’m very disappointed in the lack of vision from this board when it comes to saving a historic, iconic building,” he said. “I join with these people in here, saying, you need to take a timeout, step back, and table this — study it some more. … Don’t tear down a historic building.”

Toward the end of the meeting, supporters of the recommendation also addressed the board.

“I’m confident in the strategic visioning recommendations that you put forth, including the recommendation to demolish Roosevelt,” one speaker said. “I’m sure this decision was not made lightly and was made after months, if not years, of thoughtful consideration and discussion with all the interested parties. It was made in the best interest of all students in the West Bloomfield School District. Demolishing the building will increase the number of developers interested in the property and will allow creative uses of the land.”

Another resident who supported the decision called for unity.

“In reading over the 2023 strategic visioning recommendations, it’s apparent that due diligence, much research and thought and time, went into each of the recommendations, including closing and tearing down Roosevelt,” she said. “It’s more important than ever for everyone to come together as one community and work with the school district as an ally, instead of tearing it apart behind the scenes.”

Following public comments, Evans shared her rationale for opposing the recommendation.

“The recommendation proposed by the committee does not squarely align to our goals, our mission or our vision,” Evans said. “Until all of our students are considered in the strategic plan for 10 (years), I do not support demolishing any of our capital assets until we can determine how we can best meet our educational goals with the assets that we have. How will we support our own students in our buildings?”

Finkelstein is a proponent of giving developers an opportunity to come up with a solution that could save Roosevelt.

“We have interest from five different developers already and the property isn’t even on the market,” Finkelstein said. “This board has an obligation to collect necessary data and to make an informed decision prior to commencing demolition. We don’t even have … correct estimates for abatement and demolition, and this is fiscally irresponsible. It is fiscally irresponsible to demolish a building that is important to a community without first making a reasonable attempt.”

The district’s release addressed one of the concerns of residents.

“Some in the community have asked why the process was rushed,” the release states. “This decision has been under discussion for over a decade with formal studies in 2012, 2020, and this year. Various consultants have consistently recommended this school closure.”

Brickman is the Board of Education president, and she also shared her thoughts.

“Not being able to keep all our schools open in the face of declining enrollment does not mean we don’t hear our community,” Brickman stated via the release. “It means we have taken the responsibility of allocating our finite resources seriously. We’re doing the hard work of rightsizing our district in order to protect the quality of the programs we provide and ensuring financial and long term sustainability.”