Flint School Board Approves Budget to Demolish Washington Elementary

Reprinted with permission by flintbeat.com

After nearly nine months of consideration, the Flint Community Schools (FCS) Board voted to demolish Washington Elementary at its meeting on Sept. 13, 2023.

Flint Community Schools closed the building in 2014 to address the district’s then $11 million budget deficit. It has been sitting vacant ever since.

During public comment on Sept. 13, Edna Sabucco, who represents the Eastside Franklin Park Neighborhood Association, told the board she lives about a block from Washington. She said the building needs to come down because it’s become a dangerous place over the years. “It is a detriment not only to our neighborhood but to the city of Flint and especially to the children,” Sabucco said. “We have all sorts of illicit activity on the grounds of Washington, be it drug-related, prostitution… there’s just all sorts of things going on up there.”

Aside from the crimes Sabucco mentioned, the former elementary has also seen at least two major fires since its closure.

In 2018, Flint fire authorities ruled it a case of arson when someone lit bags of garbage on fire and threw them on the roof of the school. Then in 2021, another fire collapsed the school’s remaining floors.

FCS board members voted unanimously for the school’s demolition on Sept. 13. Board Assistant Secretary/Treasurer Laura MacIntyre was not present at the meeting.

The decision was a long time coming for some, as the board opened discussions on demolishing Washington Elementary in January 2023 soon after a host of newly-elected trustees took their seats.
At the time, residents told Flint Beat they were ready to see the building torn down. “It’s just sitting there,” said Dania Manuel, a neighbor to the property and Washington alumna. “It’s not going to make the neighborhood look any better. I don’t want it to go, but I feel like [for the] community it does have to go.”

At its May 10, 2023 meeting, the board approved a budget of up to $704,742 from the general fund for the project. Though the final bid approved at Wednesday’s meeting landed at $425,322.

Chris Henderson, the Flint Community Schools Director of Operations, said Burnash Wrecking had provided the lowest bid the district received for the project at $360,000, though it had added extra money for contingencies, bringing the total to $425,322.

He said this additional money would be used if the contractor finds an underground septic system or storage tank that needs to be dealt with during demolition. However, Henderson added, if no other issues are found during demolition, then the contingency money would come back to the district.

FCS Board Trustee Melody Relerford said she was concerned that Burnash Wrecking would try to take advantage of FCS by asking for more money later in the project, since the company would know the board had approved much more funding for the project originally. “We need to get out of the business of losing money,” she said.

Dan Mathner, a project manager with Clark Construction, which is helping manage the demolition, said that all the items that are clearly identified for the demolition project are being dealt with for $360,000.

“They will not get a penny more if it’s all identified,” Mathner told the board. “The only way that they’ll get more is if there is something like an underground tank, septic system, something that we don’t know that’s there.” If that happens, he said, the contractor will price how much it would take to handle the unknown underground items, and then the board and Clark Construction would evaluate it to see if it’s an acceptable cost.

During discussion, FCS Board Treasurer Dylan Luna said he and Board president Michael Clack had walked around the area where Washington is located and talked to the neighbors. “Every last person we spoke to said please tear that down, we have scholars walk past that school to the bus stop every day,” he said. “I think the least we could do is be a better neighbor to this neighborhood and show that we’re serious about this.”

Flint City Councilwoman Judy Priestley added her own support for the former school’s demolition during public comment. “I am encouraging you to accept your bid, go through the process and start making the fourth ward a better place for the residents and make it safer for the children,” she said. “This is a great first step, it’s the worst property that the school board owns.”

As of February 2023, FCS owned 20 vacant properties and has since begun talks around further school closures and consolidation given the district’s current student population.

Flint resident George Bowden also spoke on the subject, saying that Washington was just the start of the school board’s demolition needs. “Start somewhere, start with Washington, and then maybe we can get the rest of these torn down before it becomes a real detriment. They’re overgrown, there’s people going in and out of them, all kinds of things are happening there,” he said.

For now, Henderson, the district’s operations director, said that Washington’s demolition would likely begin in early October. He added that while taking down the structure on the property is likely a three to four-week process, it will take until Spring for the grass to regrow on the site.

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