2018-05-17 / Views

Crazy idea: turn dead school space into summer dorms

Leelanau County has a glut of school space, and will soon embark on a construction project at Leland Public School that voters approved last week.

(Here we’d like to offer congratulations to everyone associated with the district’s effort to have a $24.6 million bond approved by voters. Clearly residents love Leland School and are willing to invest into its future, which also bodes well for the future of the Leland village community.)

In the meantime, Northport and Suttons Bay public schools are weighed down with space. Classrooms sit empty. Northport has two gymnasiums and no athletic teams to use them after signing an agreement to allow students to participate on Norsemen teams. Suttons Bay had leased much of its former middle school to the Leelanau Montessori program, which learned just this week that it qualifies for a loan to refurbish the Connie Binsfeld Resource Center in Lake Leelanau as a new home.

The Suttons Bay Board of Education looked very seriously into turning the middle school wing and gymnasium into community recreation center and pool, but thankfully came to understand a lack of community support.

Now it’s time for both school districts to figure out what to do with their space. Both are Class C-sized school facilities with Class D-sized enrollment, with little chance of that changing.

While we feel all alternatives should be considered, we’d like to roll out a suggestion.

How about using the space for summer housing?

We understand why year-round housing wouldn’t work, especially with the concerns of school safety today.

But in the summer, students aren’t in school. And the space remains empty. And the need for a place for seasonal workers to sleep is immense.

It’s a project that could be worked in tandem with the business community, and would be ripe for grants. We’re looking at the creation of dorm-type environments that would cost some serious capital to create.

But without a better alternative, the space will stay empty until a future school board tires of paying maintenance and utilities on what has become dead sections of public school buildings.

While we applaud the efforts of county government and nonprofits to offer low-cost homes, the biggest employment crunch facing most Leelanau businesses and farms comes in summer.

Perhaps private companies would run the dorms, lease out the space, and pay the school districts some of the rent.

Yes, that all sounds crazy. Maybe it’s so crazy that it will work.

And if it’s too crazy, let’s try something else to put dead space into the plus column for the community.

Return to top