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Holland school debate centers on closure, as referendum is sought

Despite being halfway through the second year of a reconfiguration that closed one of the Holland School District’s three buildings, the School Board spent much of Monday’s meeting revisiting that decision – one that is well over a year old and that has been put to a board vote twice.

The debate began when resident Frank Kohlman asked the board to schedule a special community meeting to discuss the topic. He also wanted the fate of the middle school to be put up for a referendum.

School Board President Steven T. Marom said that such a referendum was out of the question.

“It is a School Board’s duty – not the public’s – to decide if a school building should be closed.” Marom, who is a lawyer, added that having a referendum on the matter would be against the law and that school attorneys had thoroughly researched the subject.

But board members pressed him on the matter.

“You think we should be the only ones to vote on this?” asked Kelleen Kensey, a staunch supporter of reopening the former middle school.

Brian Jones chimed in, “It doesn’t sit well with me owning a property without students in it.”

Kohlman said he planned to circulate a petition asking for a referendum even after the board president said that it would be out of the question.

Currently, the former middle school on Partridge Road houses administrative offices, some rented space and is still used for its pool and athletic fields. Marom said that it would cost $2 million to reopen the building for a student population that the district doesn’t have.

Taina Armstrong-Harding reminded board members that the decision to close the building was made after outside professionals, including Richard G. Timbs, executive director of the statewide school finance consortium, said the district had neither the finances nor the students to support three buildings.

The board, however, has never been unified about which facility to close.

Board member Jenelle K. Nadler admonished some board members, saying their priority should be the district, not buildings.

“I went to school in this (middle school) building. I would like it open,” Nadler said. “But I want my kids to graduate in the Holland Central School District. My fear is we’re not going to be here.”