by Harold C. Ford
Residents of Flint’s Central Park Neighborhood Association (CPNA) are seeking to meet with Flint Schools Superintendent Bilal Tawwab about the district’s plan to open a new Flint high school at the location of the now-abandoned Flint Central High School campus on Crapo Street.
In an interview in March with East Village Magazine, Tawwab indicated 2020 is the target date for opening a new school that would consolidate Flint’s secondary students.
Tawwab told EVM he had already begun to meet with neighborhood residents about the plans for the Flint Central site. “I do plan to sit down with people and engage in numerous conversations as we move closer, hopefully, to a 2020 opening,” he said.
But for some residents, conversations with Flint’s superintendent are overdue. “He has not…made contact with the neighborhood,” according to CPNA past president Ingrid Halling. “There are concerns that we have that they could ameliorate just by giving us answers,” she told EVM.
Halling delivered a list of residents’ questions to the Flint Board of Education in March looking for answers. “First of all, my concern is this is a publicly, tax-funded institution and the Flint school board are publicly elected officials,” she said. “They have made no attempt to contact the neighborhood which (the new school) will have the greatest impact on day-to-day life.”
Central Park Neighborhood is situated between downtown Flint and the Flint Cultural Center and includes the old Flint Central site. Roughly, CPN is a rectangular area bordered by Longway Boulevard on the north, East Court Street on the south, Gilkey Creek on the east, and north-bound Chavez Drive on the west.
Halling then delivered a list of 12 questions to Tawwab’s office. A synthesized version of the list follows:
- Why the old Flint Central site and not Flint Southwestern’s 169-acre site at twice the size?
- What is projected student enrollment in light of the water crisis and the current political trends that are unfavorable to public education?
- What are the plans for vehicular transport of students into and away from the Flint Central site?
- Why have Flint schools not reached out to neighborhoods that will most be affected by the plan?
- Are there provisions in place to save historical artifacts from the old campus?
- Will environmental safeguards be in place during demolition?
- How is a financially challenged district funding this project?
- What plans are there for the Southwestern and Northwestern campuses?
- Are plans in place to ensure good citizenship as students walk through the neighborhoods to and from school?
Halling recollected challenges that confronted Central Park Neighborhood before Central High School closed its doors on June 11, 2009. “The kids would walk five abreast down Second Street to go downtown and catch the buses from there and they intimidated people who were driving by,” she recalled. “They were taking over the Riverside Playground during the day. I don’t want to go through that again.”
“We’ll make sure we are good neighbors, for sure. All the necessary precautions will be taken,” Tawwab told EVM in March. “It has to be a mind-set shift, not just in the schools, but in the community (as well),” he cautioned area residents.
Current CPNA president Karen Tipper told EVM she is worried about foot and vehicular traffic, litter, vandalism, and other matters. “The direct route to the (MTA) bus station is through our neighborhood,” she warned. “Our biggest concern is maintaining our sense of neighborhood and not being overrun by commercialism or an educational system.”
“How do we get out when we have to go to work in the morning if there’s buses lined up on Crapo Street from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.?” asked Tipper. “How do we get out in the evening from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.? We’re going to be trapped.”
Yet Tipper understands the need for fresh initiatives by Flint Community Schools (FCS). “Working with kids in schools on a regular basis, I also see the need for a place that is 21st Century and not what we have currently that is serving our kids which is appalling,”she said.
In its April issue, EVM documented dismal standardized test scores in all subject areas by FCS students. For example, only 4% of Flint students in grade 11 tested At or Above Proficiency in Mathematics on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) in 2015-2016. Only 6.5% of Flint students in grade 11 tested At or Above Proficiency on the M-STEP Science test in 2015-2016.
In her interview with EVM, Tipper advocated for a “place that is pleasant to come to every day, a place that has technology, that is accessible by all the kids, a place that has recreational facilities…” Recollecting the access that Flint Central students had to Flint’s college and cultural center, Tawwab told EVM, “We’re looking to be able to provide our kids with that same type of experience.”
Evidence of a move to a new consolidated campus at the old Flint Central site is mounting:
- 2009: Flint Powers Catholic High School is rebuffed in its attempt to purchase the Flint Southwestern site. Any possibility of purchasing the Flint Central site is likely discouraged.
- 2013: Flint’s new Master Plan declares: “Flint Central High School would be a centrally-located consolidation of existing Flint high schools.”
- June 2014-June 2016: A $22 million FCS deficit disappears.
- April 2016: Flint-based THA Architects Engineers are commissioned to draw up renderings of what a new building might look like at the old Flint Central site.
- July 2016: The Flint School Board begins to publicly discuss the possibility of a new campus at the old Flint Central site at a cost of nearly $80 million.
- March 2017: Flint Schools Superintendent Tawwab indicates to EVM that 2020 is the target date for opening a new school at the old Flint Central site.
The two-year retirement of FCS debt and the source of funding for an $80 million campus has fueled the curiosity of many Flint citizens including CPNA’s Ingrid Halling. “Explain to me how a failing school system that (was) $20 million in the hole” can build an expensive new campus? Halling said she was told by a member of the Flint Board of Education, “There will be no public funds used to build that building. She promised me that.”
In his responses to EVM, Tawwab played it close to the vest. “I’m not at liberty at this point to speak on the financial side,” he said. “I don’t feel like I’m alone…as I engage folks in the community and get to know a lot of the players here. Some folks want to see the district return. And that’s good.”
What would be good for Tipper and Halling, they said, is a meeting with Tawwab to work out the details of a new school in their neighborhood. “You have to have an opportunity for potential problems to be worked out and the best time is before they happen, not after,” Tipper said.
Tipper indicated that Norma Sain, executive director of the Court Street Village Nonprofit Housing Corporation, had extended an invitation to Tawwab to meet with CPNA residents but that it hasn’t happened yet. “He still has time to meet with us,” she said. “We are not running out of time.”
EVM staff writer Harold C. Ford can be reached at email@example.com.