School board debates validity of extension on Mary Crapo purchase offer

SWARTZ CREEK — Some members of the Swartz Creek Community Schools Board of Education want more discussion about the future of Mary Crapo.

In January, the school board granted Communities First a third extension on the option to purchase the property, which the nonprofit organization plans to redevelop into senior citizen apartments.

The problem, according to board Treasurer Michael Ahearne, is that the purchase agreement allows for only two six-month extensions.

“They had two extensions,” Ahearne said. “The contract limited it to two. And they used it.”

School Superintendent Ben Mainka acknowledged that Communities First exhausted the extensions provided for in the purchase option, but said that was why they came back to the school board last month to request another.

One of the concerns for Ahearne and board Trustee Chuck Melki is the fate of the baseball diamond at Mary Crapo. The district already doesn’t have enough baseball fields, and the condition of the diamond at the middle school has drawn complaints.

Communities First had agreed to build a new diamond elsewhere in the district, and later offered to lease the space to the City of Swartz Creek on the condition the city maintain the ballfield.

City officials said they would be interested in overseeing the property for passive recreation, but they declined to spend money paid by city residents to maintain a field for the entire school district.

Melki questioned what it would cost the district to raze Mary Crapo, preserve the ballfield and perhaps add a running track around the property.

“Was there a study?” Melki asked. “Did we consider it?”

“When we originally did a survey and listed options, one was demolition,” said Mainka. “We did receive at the time, and I’m not sure that’s going to still be the sentiment, a lot of push back in the community. A lot of people wanted to see the building repurposed if at all possible.”

District officials did not solicit a detailed financial analysis of the cost to demolish the building, but based on informal discussions with contractors, they determined it would be cost prohibitive.

“It’s not as simple as getting a crane and bulldozer and knocking it down,” said Mainka. “There are regulations that require asbestos abatement. That building, in every single room, there is asbestos. So, it would be a large sum of money to do the abatement before the demolition. The belief is that it would be in the upper hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

The estimate for bringing the building up to code for occupancy also was in the hundreds of thousands, he said.

“So, the numbers were large,” Mainka added. “That’s why, at the time, we decided if there was another way to preserve the community asset … we felt this was a good opportunity at the time. That may be a different feeling amongst certain community members and board members at this time.”

Melki inquired about the possibility of the district obtaining grant funding for asbestos abatement.

“We’re being told, with COVID, there is a lot dealing with improving air quality,” said Mainka. “Unfortunately, those are typically for spaces occupied by students. But, it’s certainly a possibility.”

Melki said he believes the issue warrants more discussion among the board.

As it stands, the extension remains in effect.