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Holland School Board looks back on old debate

By Eileen Werbitsky

News Correspondent

With the start of a new school year just days away and a new capital project in the works, Holland School Superintendent Cathy Fabiatos had hoped Monday’s School Board meeting would focus on the future. Instead it fell back into an all too-familiar debate over one of the most difficult decisions the district ever made – closing its Middle School building.

The decision, decried by many in the community as poorly handled, became official June 30, 2012. As of that date, students in grades 5-8 were relocated to the campus on North Canada Street where the elementary and high schools are located. Left behind were classrooms, an auditorium, the only pool in the district and an array of athletic fields, which are still being used. Last year, the district offices were located there but have since been moved to the North Canada Street campus as well.

Monday evening, instead of discussing what to do with the building on Route 16, including a possible sale, board members Kelleen Kensy, Joe Levesque and Brian Jones stumped to reverse the two-year-old decision.

“We got a $7.2 million asset on our balance sheet that we’ll never come close to getting the money for,” Jones said. Levesque added that the Middle School was more “accommodating” than the elementary school, which he and Kensy along with two other former board members had voted to close instead. That decision was later reversed when a new election changed the makeup of the School Board.

Fabiatos, irked that the matter, which occurred prior to her arrival in the district, is still being rehashed, was quick to explain that it was too late to reverse the move. She said that once students were taken out of the building, state financial aid for it was gone. Even if students returned there, there is no guarantee that state aid for the building would return and the district would be forced to pay full fare for the many needed repairs there, the superintendent said. Kensy voiced her doubt that the state aid decision was that final.

In a related matter, the board heard details of a proposed $13 million capital project that the superintendent dubbed a “Fix-It” project. It would address drainage issues, upgrade boilers and other basic maintenance items. The only “frill” is a $2.5 million proposal for a multi-purpose athletic field, which the superintendent said would be competition-worthy. The Holland district receives 82ø cents in state aid for each capital dollar it spends on approved projects.