The future of Old Mission Peninsula School (OMPS) took a positive step forward Monday night when the Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) board voted unanimously to negotiate with the Old Mission Peninsula Education Foundation on the sale of the building, contents and property.
The board authorized two members, Erik Falconer and Scott Hardy, along with TCAPS Superintendent Paul Soma, to negotiate a legal binding purchase agreement for the sale of OMPS. The negotiations will come back to the full TCAPS board for approval, and a vote could happen by their self-imposed deadline of November 30.
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The Foundation submitted a formal offer earlier in the day on Monday to buy OMPS for $1 million, which includes both the building and the assets within the school, such as furniture and supplies. The Foundation upped their previous offer of $750,000 after TCAPS officials, in a finance meeting earlier in the month, indicated that the initial offer was too low. The purchase offer is tied to an agreement for TCAPS to continue providing educational services for OMPS through at least June 2018.
TCAPS, which had targeted OMPS for closure in 2018, is finalizing reconstruction plans for Eastern Elementary School this fall and must make assumptions within the design about whether the school will need to absorb Old Mission students.
For TCAPS to commit to educating students at OMPS beyond June 2018, Foundation representatives need to not only finalize the building’s purchase agreement by the end of November, but also provide funding commitments to cover $400,000 in annual education overhead for several years beyond 2018.
In her comments to the board, Foundation president Allison O’Keefe said she has faith that the Foundation and TCAPS will come to an agreement. “I know you’ve got this,” she told the board. “You are going to sell a building that’s not even for sale. You’re going to sell a building back to a community who’s going to forgive you for all of this last year … our community will maintain their faith in public education, because TCAPS realizes that accepting a large sum of money for a building isn’t inequitable. It is, in fact, responsible.”
O’Keefe added, “There is a number in front of you that is more than any other amount put forward to this board for a building or otherwise. By showing your good faith and accepting this money for the district, you’re also welcoming the prospect of future public donations.”
She said the money could be used by TCAPS in a number of ways, including to pay the $44,000 to renovate Bertha Vos for Eastern students; for an addition to Silver Lake, which is overcrowded now that Interlochen is closed; or for curriculum desperately needed to educate all TCAPS students.
“The bottom line,” said O’Keefe, “is that I don’t want to hear the district crying poor and then refusing this very generous offer that’s on the table. Open your hands, accept the money, and use it for good. Imagine all the possibilities that sum of money could do for all the children in our district. It’s the right thing to do, and I believe it’s a win for everyone.”
Corey Phelps, vice-president of the Foundation, encouraged the board to review the details of the appraisal that was completed on OMPS. He said the formal offer falls not only midway through the appraisal’s value, but also reflects what the TCAPS board finance committee might consider to be a fair and equitable number.
“I don’t care what kind of negotiation you’re doing, whether it’s real estate or a car or some collectible,” said Phelps. “Typically when there are negotiations, you try and find the middle ground. That’s what we’ve attempted to find for you … it is equitable, it is fair, it is something that is great for the community. It’ll help heal the Old Mission community, and it’ll allow us to go out and get more funds in the future.”
Not only that, said Phelps, but if TCAPS accepts the offer, it will also allow them to solicit other funds within the district. “This is good faith, and it shows the community that you’re able to accept these kinds of donations in the future. So I encourage you to not push this aside for another week. I encourage you to stand up as board members and look at the offer that is presented to you.”
TCAPS board members expressed appreciation for the Foundation’s efforts. “I support this direction,” said Gary Appel of the board’s decision to authorize Falconer and Hardy to negotiate on their behalf. “I’m happy and comfortable empowering you to negotiate it and come back with a recommendation.”
Board member Doris Ellery noted, “I think we need to be a little more generous with our negotiations, because it’s an option out there for TCAPS to come to a resolution of this process. It’s been difficult, but I think we know that the people who want the school live out on the Peninsula. I don’t know if there would be any other entity (other than the Foundation) that would want to do this besides them. If we can come to a solution that will be an easier solution for everyone and maybe not so aggressive with the pricing, that’s my two cents.”
Ellery added, “I think we need to resolve this. If we can’t come to a conclusion, where are we going to be with this? We have an empty, closed building and students leaving.”
Board member Sue Kelly said, “It’s impressive what the Foundation is doing. I really appreciate the steps you’ve taken, and I can only hope for the success for everybody on this.”
O’Keefe said she’s “absolutely thrilled” with the discussion that took place at the meeting, but is a little concerned about hitting the November 30 deadline.
“I know we’ve all been working nonstop to make sure we hit that deadline, and I would hate to lose any momentum going past that date,” she said. “I look forward to hearing from Scott and Erik and solidifying this whole thing, for all of us to be able to move forward, and especially getting on to the piece of actually educating our children.”