Cash-strapped South Haven Schools considers selling lakefront Packard Park property

By ANDREW LERSTEN

For the Tribune

South Haven’s Packard Park is one of several city’s  beach parks on Lake Michigan, and quite a popular spot in the summer months.

Unlike other city parks, however, Packard is actually owned by South Haven Schools, which is now considering sale of the site as part of a number of ways to reduce its budget. 

Board members last week asked Superintendent Bob Black to look into details related to the possible sale of the site, including discussions with city officials about the idea.

Board Trustee Joe DeGrandchamp brought up the proposal during a lengthy board discussion on possible ways to increase revenues and reduce costs.

“To me (the sale of the park site) is the biggest bang for the buck,” DeGrandchamp said. “Lakefront (property) is one of those properties that, while not immune from the recession, certainly does not take the hit that other properties do.”

Some board members said they had concerns about the sale, due to the long-term lease the city currently has to operate the park.

But Vice President Corey Davis said he wasn’t concerned about that.

“It’s our property. We can sell it,” Davis said. “We are the owner of the property. We don’t have to ask (the city’s) permission.”

Some other properties owned by the district could also be sold, including a site near Maple Grove Elementary and one near Baseline Middle School.

Another major discussion topic for reducing expenses is cutting the athletics budget. The board agreed that Athletic Director Dave Gumpert make recommendations on what to cut from the athletics budget.

Athletic cuts that have been considered include reduced pay for coaches and reducing or eliminating transportation. The board consensus, however, is not to eliminate freshmen sports.

The district is considering budget cuts due to the continued loss of state funding.

Now is the time to study possible future budget cuts, before there is a full-fledged crisis at hand, DeGrandchamp stressed.

“If we don’t make plans in advance, and the shoe falls, we’re going to be scrambling and it’s going to be ugly,” he said.

In other district news, a special board meeting will likely be held next month to interview architect firms for next year’s planned high school bond effort, Black said.

The district received 11 proposals from firms interested in helping the district with the design work related to the proposed high school renovations.

District officials earlier thought that the board would be ready to interview two or three firms last week, but more time for review is needed, the superintendent said.

“We’re still reviewing them,” Black said. “We hope to have our review done by the end of the month. If we can get our short list, we can get them in for interviews before the regular March meeting (on March 17).”

Ideally, a special meeting will be held for that purpose sometime between March 4 and March 16, he said.

Also last week, high school custodian Patty Bales urged the board to carefully consider a possible shift to privatizing custodial services. She said the board should make sure it is comparing “apples to apples” when analyzing possible cost saving and the services to be provided.

Trustee Charlie Dotson has been encouraging more district residents to attend the ongoing School Improvement Committee meetings. The next meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, in the high school media center.

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