MENOMINEE — The Menominee Schools Facilities Task Force presented their final project recommendations to the Board of Education Thursday. After several months of collecting data, their final recommendation is to tear down and rebuild Central Elementary as a K-5 or K-6 school, allow for Blesch Intermediate to be repurposed and no longer used as a regular school building and complete as many deferred maintenance projects as feasible at Menominee Jr. High/High School. No formal decision was made by the school board.

According to Tom Weber, senior business consultant with Unesco Corp., the task force consisted of a variety of community members, including former teachers, community business owners, current students, city officials and parents. The group toured each school in depth to take a look at the inner workings of the buildings and what improvements they would need, discussed possible options for funding for whatever projects were needed and prioritized the individual projects, with the goal of making a recommendation to the board that would first and foremost benefit student achievement.

“For me, I haven’t been in the schools, especially Central, for a very long time,” said Alyssa Higley, a member of the task force, “Just walking in there and seeing how full it is of stuff without a lot of room to maneuver around, and how old everything is; going behind the scenes in the bathrooms and boiler rooms, and just seeing how much of the schools are held together by duct tape, basically. It was an eye-opener for me.”

“There was no shortage of information that we were given to look at,” said Josh Jones, a task force member and teacher at Blesch, “Another thing that we were impressed by was what we are able to do with what we have, and a lot of that goes back to Steve (Steve Sobay, director of operations) and his crew and how they’re able to keep a lot of this stuff going. It’s only a matter of time before they’re not able to keep everything going to the level it needs to be.”

“We took a look at that stuff, and how all those things — ventilation, lighting, temperature and humidity, acoustics — contribute to student achievement, and there are a lot of very direct impacts that those things have,” Weber said.

Weber pointed out that many of the buildings were built 50 years ago or more, and much of the equipment is original, especially at Central.

“I appreciate the task force, all the hard work and heavy lifting they did,” said school board president Ken Pulver, “There was a lot of great work that was done with a great mix of the community. It wasn’t stacked or a team that was made to get what we wanted; everybody’s opinion was heard. As we make the decision on what we’re going to go for, we do want everybody’s engagement. Our number one thing is: we’ve got to get people to understand what’s behind the doors they drive past. If you drive past our schools, they look good. But when you get into the bones of things, you realize that we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.”