2017-07-27 / Front Page

Montessori makes offer for building

By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff

An offer to purchase the Connie Binsfeld Resource Center has been submitted by the Leelanau Montessori Charter School Academy.

Head of School Eric Royston confirmed Friday the his board of director’s offer to purchase the building in Lake Leelanau.

“We’ve agreed on a price,” said Royston, declining to name the amount. “We have 140 days to get a number of contingencies met.”

Chief among them are inspections and reauthorization of the school’s charter, the latter which has proven to be difficult at this point.

“This hasn’t gone as well as I had hoped,” Royston said. “We’ve approached three authorizers who have politely declined our charter application.”

Suttons Bay Public School authorized the Montessori school’s original charter in 2010. The three-year charter was reauthorized in 2013 for a five-year period that expires June 30, 2018.

Former Suttons Bay Superintendent Chris recommended reunification of the two programs earlier this year. However, Montessori leaders and their families, citing a need for autonomy, began looking elsewhere for an authorizer.

Thus far, they have been declined by the Bay Mills Indian Community near Sault Ste. Marie; Grand Valley State University and Saginaw Valley State University.

Each had a different reason for turning the application down. One was cited the lack of a facility; the second, student achievement data and the third, a lack on minority students, according to Royston.

“There are significantly more charter authorizers than the ones we’ve applied to,” he said.

Charter School officials are also looking for a new home as its lease for space in the vacant middle school wing at Suttons Bay School expires at the end of June 2018.

It was a natural to look at the Resource Center in Lake Leelanau. Opened in 1999, the non-profit Northern Health Foundation (NHF) is the “owner” of the building. NHF exists, in part, to help local heath departments with their real estate needs since multi-jurisdictional health departments are not authorized to own real estate.

The health department has acted as the on-site operator of the building, collecting rent from other non-profits to cover the mortgage payment. This went smoothly until 2008 when the “alternative” Leelanau Peninsula High School, a major tenant of the building, closed its doors.

“After they lost the school (as a tenant) the payments were way too high,” said NHF representatives Gerry Chase.

However, NFH was able to refinance the mortgage to a more “conventional” loan that offered more flexibility for the health department, he said.

Still, the building has been for sale since 2010, when it originally listed at $799,000. It is still listed for the same price by the Schaub Team through Coldwell Banker Schmidt Realtors.

Royston declined to say how much money was offered for the building.

One contingency for the sale is that the Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department continue to be a lessee, which it has been since the building was constructed.

In addition to space now in use by the health department, the resource center is also the home to the offices of ShareCare of Leelanau; the Women’s Resource Center and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Samaritans’ Closet had recently offered resale furniture at the rear of the building but is no longer an occupant, health department business manager Dodie Putney said.

The space lends itself to education as it was the site of the former alternative high school.

“We are working with architect, but it is no small task,” Royston said.

Some 116 students are enrolled at Leelanau Montessori for fall 2017.

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