GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Grand Rapids Public Schools Board of Education voted unanimously Monday night to recommend tearing down a former high school on Kensington Avenue SW.

The nearly 100-year-old building, formerly known as Adelante High School, closed in 2004. The school board also recommended divesting Alexander Elementary School, which closed in 2011.

With those spaces, Superintendent Leadriane Roby wants to add back to the community.

“What are some other uses, whether it be through housing, through parks, community centers and such?” Roby said.

“The location of Alexander versus Kensington is very different,” Roby said. “Alexander really is in the hub of our community, and Kensington is a little more isolated. Just the feasibility of it all fits into that decision-making process.”

It was one of seven recommendations unanimously approved by the board as part of its facilities master plan aiming to transform the school district.

“I think it shows that this board is in support of our young people,” Roby said. “And it’s not just about today, it’s about the future.”

“I think they’re very intentional and have been very intentional about saying, ‘How do we make the best decision for our community, our scholars, and our families long-term, and not just think of short-term fixes?’” Roby also said of the school board’s decision.

As part of major restructuring for the district, the school board is looking to close some current schools a few years from now. The district has said it has too many buildings for the number of students enrolled. Since 2008, the district has experienced a 26% drop in students.

Back in 2008, there were more than 19,000 students. In 2020, the number dropped to about 14,000.

Only about half of available space is being used at elementary, middle and high schools. On Monday night, the school board agreed to aim to have elementary and middle schools be 75% full by 2032.

Roby said there are “multiple strategies” to make that a reality.

“Looking at our school programs, how do we offer more programming so that we are the choice for our community?” Roby said.

The district could close schools to make the goal possible. No decisions have been made yet on which schools could shut down. The superintendent said that decision will come by spring of 2023.

“We’re going to use a rubric of health of building, utilization, what it will take to bring it up to code, or all those different things,” Roby said. “And how do we pair buildings together or programs together. So it’ll be a very layered decision, but we’ll make sure we also have a rubric and then again going back to the community so people aren’t surprised.”

“We’ve really committed to making sure people have the information, understand the ‘why’ and then talk about what those options are as they’re making choices for their children,” she added.

The superintendent does not expect changes at current schools until the 2024-25 school year. The goal is to make sure schools are equitable across the district, with resources being distributed evenly.

Roby said her vision for the district in the future is making sure all schools have a “magnet or a focus.”

“So that all schools have some sort of specialty that make them unique,” Roby explained.

Monday’s decision comes after 11 town halls about the facilities master plan.

“Part of our goal is to make sure we’re transparent and we are engaging our community,” Roby said. “Our board has demonstrated that over the last six months that they really want to be transparent about the why of what we’re doing.”

Roby said phase two of the district’s facilities master plan will get underway next year.

“Now that we have our guiding principles of how we’re going to be making recommendations, the next steps will include drilling into how schools will be selected and also making sure we are very intentional about working closely with those school communities,” Roby said.

Here is a full list of the recommendations that the school board approved, per the district’s website:

  • Recommendation #1: Ensure sustainability and align with Strategic Plan by aiming for average 75% utilization across the elementary and middle school grade levels by 2032.
  • Recommendation #2: Enrollments and utilization rates to be assessed annually to ensure Facilities Master Plan, Strategic Plan, and Academic Plan implementations are improving measurable strategic outcomes.
  • Recommendation #3: Relocation of scholars and staff will be implemented to preserve programs, prioritize access, and improve learning environments into existing neighborhood and theme schools.
  • Recommendation #4: Be responsive and transparent with our community by producing a Facilities Master Plan calendar that includes continual stakeholder engagement and communication milestones on a regular basis.
  • Recommendation #5: Provide continuation of funding for the implementation of the Facilities Master Plan through a capital program initiated in November 2023.
  • Recommendation #6: Use district assets for community benefit by seeking out partnership opportunities for vacated schools and sites once program replacements are identified. GRPS would continue to prioritize property ownership with future asset decisions.
  • Recommendation #7: Reduce current operating costs and resource inefficiencies by leveling Kensington and divesting Alexander in fiscal year 2023. GRPS would continue to prioritize property ownership with future asset decisions.