The former Menekaunee Elementary School could soon be put back into service for the Marinette School District as an early learning center for kindergarten and 4K students. EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
The former Menekaunee Elementary School could soon be put back into service for the Marinette School District as an early learning center for kindergarten and 4K students. EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
MARINETTE - After closing its doors nearly a decade ago, the Menekaunee School could soon be back in the education business. The Marinette School District administrative team has laid out a plan to bring the former elementary school back to life, this time as a learning center exclusively for early childhood, which would be 4K and kindergarten.

On April 23, 2003, the Marinette School Board voted to close Washington and Menekaunee elementary schools, both of which had just undergone extensive remodeling. Washington grade school was sold in November 2006 for $350,000 and was converted into senior housing.

The Menekaunee School has had nibbles from potential buyers but remains unoccupied. A third school, Porterfield Elementary, was closed in June 2007 and remains unused.

According to the administrative team, having the youngest learners under one roof offers advantages, such as classrooms that are more conducive to early learning; combines teams for collaboration on prevention, intervention and enrichment groupings; and opens rooms and eases congestion at the three elementary buildings.

A short video presentation was made Monday illustrating various situations in the elementary schools where music, art and special physical therapy functions are performed in closets and hallways. The stage at Park School, for example, has not been used for its original purpose for a long time because of the amount of equipment that needs to be stored there.

From a public relations perspective, many parents have never been onboard with having 4K classes at the middle school, even though they are segregated from the older students.

"There are some parents who come into our district early on who are not satisfied with the location of it, it's not ideal for the kids, for our early learners," said Merryman principal Judy Grace, a member of the administrative team. "That's part of our rationale for our report here."

School Board President John LaCourt said the creation of an early childhood learning center is a great opportunity.

"It's just a beautiful situation where they can be there for two years and the collaboration between the kindergarten and 4K teachers, right in the same building," he said. "I think it enhances our early education quite a bit."

As wonderful as the idea may be, there are practical matters to consider, namely expenses. An estimated $100,000 for a principal, $50,000 for secretary and another $75,000 or so for cleaning and maintenance. Building needs such as security doors, plumbing, hardware, roof and parking lot repairs, etc., would add another $85,000. Then there are telephone and computer updates that would be required, tacking on another $24,000.

Reopening the school would also mean supplying meals to youngsters and updating and staffing the kitchen. The total ballpark figure for reopening Menekaunee as a learning center is about $500,000, something the district said it has the funds to accomplish.

"It can be a financial risk because the cost of opening it," LaCourt said. "I feel we have enough in our fund balance to absorb that, but it's going to be an ongoing thing, then. There's always a question of what the state is going to do as far as funding for public schools."

There are those who may question the need to reopen the school in the face of declining enrollment. In 1993-94, there were 196 kindergarten students in the district compared to 158 this year. Projections continue downward to 135 by 2016-17. The same is true for pre-K projections from 137 students this year to 121 in 2016-17.

Grace expressed enthusiasm that the conversion could be accomplished to start classes at Menekaunee in the fall, a sentiment shared by Facilities Director Kurt Gundlach and the president of the school board.

"I firmly believe we can get it going," said LaCourt, who recently toured the building. "It's getting a little late, but I think we can get this accomplished. I'm personally excited as a citizen and as a board member."

In addition to the Menekaunee School issue, the board also reached a consensus to establish a summer school program and is expected to vote on both at its next regular meeting Tuesday.