East Lansing or East Laggard? A vote for fossil fuels? // James Anderson


 I challenge your public silence on the school bond expenditure plans, especially for the Red Cedar site plan, as I have challenged you in public comment at Board of Education and Bond Work Group meetings, so far in vain.  The public, which voted for the bond issue last May by a razor thin margin, has been subjected to more than eight months of complete silence in Board meetings on plans for spending up to $93 million of taxpayer dollars, not counting the interest.  Only Nell Kuhnmuench has initiated any public discussion about spending plans, and that for a few minutes of enlightening colloquy with a GMB architect about geothermal energy last July.

Silence gives consent.  You appear ready to vote for the bid on the Red Cedar site plan.   As  Board of Education members, you are about to have full responsibility for the blunders in the Red Cedar renovation site plan.  The blunders are environmental, financial, and political.  I ask you again to modify the Red Cedar site plan to avoid the problems discussed below.


I.A. Environmental Vandalism: The Natural environment blunders.

1.If you vote to accept the bids for Category 14, Earth Work, and Category 15, Asphalt,  you endorse the environmental vandalism at the heart of the proposed  palace entrance design for the south entrance to Red Cedar School. The existing driveway is an excellent configuration. You will vote to destroy the Pine Island grove of 8 Scotch Pines, averaging around 75 years of age.  They are in good condition for their years; they are more healthy than many of our 75 year old human neighbors.  The Scotch Pines predate the Red Cedar School, built in 1948, and may predate World War II, according to the excellent dating work done by MSU Professor James Kielbaso,  President of the Michigan Forestry and Park Association.

2.  The trees are therefore part of our community and school heritage.  They should be treasured and protected, not destroyed.  Not one of you would allow the destruction of these trees if they graced the driveways to your homes. Trees will also be an issue at Pinecrest, where memorial trees are threatened by some drawings still circulating, and maybe other elementary schools.

3.  The aesthetic impact of the tree destruction plan is harsh, notwithstanding the potted plants in rain gardens offered to decorate the asphalt.  You are destroying the beautiful natural buffer separating the presently attractive south side of Red Cedar school from the sterile shopping center and parking lots to the south.  It’s almost as if the architects and administration set out to make the Red Cedar parking area as barren and ugly as the commercial area south of the school.

Don’t take my word on this. Drive south on Narcissus toward the school from Marigold, Daisy, or Lilac, as I have done several times,.  Notice how the beautiful balancing evergreen screen provided by the eight  beautiful Scotch Pines Island shields us from direct visual confrontation with the shopping center parking.  Now imagine how the view changes when the 8 pines are destroyed by chain saws and bulldozers.  It gets uglier, and will stay uglier for at least the next two decades, IF the potted plants and trees live.  Look at the box-on-slab view of McDonald Middle School from the southwest (Burcham/Hagadorn corner) if  you seek a preview of the Narcissus view southward after the new asphalt is laid down.  You will get a direct harsh view of Trowbridge commercial parking areas, often bare asphalt without parked cars.

4.  Trees are natural solar collectors, possibly more efficient in the long run than current and foreseeable engineered solar panels.  Not one shred of evidence has been presented to the public to show that the current excellent RC south entrance presents any present or future safety risk.  Expansion and convenience for drivers, disproportionately SOC parents, is the sole visible rationale.

I.B.  The absence of solar and renewable energy investment.  HERE IS THE EAST LAGGARD ISSUE, IN FULL VIEW,  bursting out of the cocoon of silence you and the Board have  imposed around it.  

1. The recommended bids for the renovation of Red Cedar have no solar and/or renewable energy elements.  The Board’s silence over the last 8 1/2 months has produced dismaying and disgraceful fruit on this point.  We are exactly where we were last May after the bond passage. THE BOARD AND ADMINISTRATION HAVE DONE NOTHING WORTH NOTING ON RENEWABLE ENERGY.  MEANWHILE:

a.  I found out since the last Board meeting that the Okemos Board and Administration, with active and welcomed involvement of students and community, have recommended, approved and installed a substantial number of solar panels on the roof of the Okemos High School. It is probably around a 20 to 30 kilowatt system, but verify this. They were installed and operational last summer, while the East Laggard Board and Administration have denied, dithered, and dragged their feet for more than eight months.  Is it a surprise that so many families moving into the area favor Okemos over East Lansing?

b.  A full decade agotiny Pigeon, Michigan, population 1200, in Michigan’s Thumb area, part of the Elton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker School System, was developing plans for renewable energy.  In 2009, it received a $1 million grant from the Michigan Public Service Commission for renewable energy and energy efficiency installation.  The ELPS was in full laggard mode at that time and did nothing, and has done nothing on renewable energy since. Shame on you.

The bond issue gives us a tremendous, but only temporary, opportunity to catch up and lead in applications of renewable energy.  School Board members and Administrators, please don’t not fumble it away by being  East Laggard, as we are doing nearly nine months into the bond planning and construction phase. Two separate comprehensive opinion polls, one in the Red Cedar neighborhood, and one of all East Lansing school issue voters, emphasize overwhelming public support for more solar and renewable energy, tree preservation, and and more restraint of traffic flow around schools.  (Stay tuned for more on these polls.) Meanwhile, the City of East Lansing, area churches such as Edgewood, MSU with 40,000 solar panels, and the Ford Presidential Museum are moving decisively to expand solar energy use.

II. Financial extravagance and waste.  The Board of Education is derelict in exercising its’ fundamental duty if it fails to ask public questions and deliver public answers about crucial  financial matters. Extravagance and transportation backwardness are the keys  here.  The south palace entrance for Red Cedar is not only an extravagant disgrace, but expensive as well, and looks backward rather than forward 40 years.   The palace entrance proposal  has blown a giant $310,218 hole in the original $412,000 submitted to the Michigan Treasury and East Lansing voters as the budget for Red Cedar site work.  So the Board is being asked to bless a $722,218 palace entrance budget for Red Cedar.  Add another 14 per cent for architectural, engineering  and construction manager charges, and we reach $823,000 just for site work, a 77 per cent cost overrun, and we get zero renewable energy investment.

Where does this extravagant extra $400,000 chain saw and asphalt funding come from?  It will be taken from the Red Cedar PQ Series 1 contingency fund of $868,832.  The Administration and CM will take $560,328 out of the emergency contingency fund to finance the palace entrance, almost two thirds (64.5 per cent) of a fund intended to cover the costs of unexpected construction problems.  Red Cedar, unlike Glencairn,  will have few and minor engineering surprises, so the contingency fund should remain intact.

And yet we have not heard so much as a peep or a squeak from any board members about site work or other costs.  Still less have we heard any questions about the public ethics and legality of  a 77 per cent cost overrun for peripheral site work, of minimal future need according to current Board and Administration planning for RC building utilization.

III.  The Nasty Politics of Extravagance.  When voters protest costs and misplaced priorities, they do it politically.  Our voters, most of whom do not have children in school at present,  well understand that driveways and parking lots are costly, and they entail maintenance costs in proportion to their initial costs. Not far below the surface of school policy debates of curriculum, safe schools, mental health, and other routine topics of Board discussion, we find several sharp issues that bubble up and even erupt in election campaigns.  The Red Cedar palace entrance will make several of these issues sharper and more contentious than they already are.  Four of them come readily to mind, and you may well think of others.  First, a simple political fact.  The ELPS sinking fund is up for renewal in the November 2018 election.  Its’ uses are sometimes routine, sometimes contentious.  Renewal is far from guaranteed if the public senses extravagance, waste, or major deviation from public preferences, clearly discernible, for minimum waste, more solar and renewable energy utilization, and more restraint and limitations of vehicular traffic at school locations.

Second, The Red Cedar palace driveway, and other school driveway and parking plans to come, will  disproportionately benefit School of Choice (SOC) pupil drivers, and therefore represent a substantial direct subsidy of nonresidential students by East Lansing taxpayers.  If our taxpayers sense they are not only paying high taxes, but are subsidizing nonresident parents and pupils, they will be less supportive of school financial needs.  Third, with East Lansing City finances in acute crisis and major budget cuts looming,  a Red Cedar palace entrance, lacking any semblance of documented justification,  is more than a sore thumb for taxpayers. It is a potential flash point for criticism of school finances, especially millage renewals.

Finally, no state funded charter schools are spending $800,000 for palace driveway entrances to their buildings. Even Cranbrook Academy would cringe at a proposal like this.  Public charter schools use simple, plain vanilla traffic flow and parking patterns.  Drive out and take a look at the simple parking and traffic flow for the Cole Academy under construction in northwest East Lansing.  Or look at their school on West Mount Hope. These are highly competitive schools, and we should not be wasting bond issue funds on extravagantly wasteful site plans which promote fossil fuel and high CO2 vehicles, while adding nothing to enhance our academic appeal.

If you adopt the RC palace entrance, more than mild controversy lies straight ahead. Expect frequent and intense questioning, and extensive publicity of your extravagance and dereliction of financial responsibility right through the election.  And recognize the self-inflicted risk to the sinking fund millage renewal.

We can avoid these questions and risks by keeping site plans simple, and buildings highly efficient.  Incorporate the maximum renewable energy the bond issue allows, and protect our heritage pine trees.

/s/ James R. Anderson
50 Year East Lansing taxpayer, parent, and Glencairn resident.

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