Powers Catholic's public offer to buy Southwestern Academy has added some new heat to an already emotional subject — closing Flint schools as the city's population and resources decline. It appeared from committee reports that Flint Central was being set up as the most likely candidate to shut down.
As Flint Journal reporter Kristen Longley recently reported, "an advisory committee has labeled Central as 'an example of possibly the worst facility' in the district. The high school, once home to as many as 2,000 students, now houses fewer than half that and is one of the most expensive schools to operate." Worse, a facilities committee report included in an evaluation by the engineering firm THA Architects Engineers of Flint called the landmark "a poor performer with many deficiencies including wood construction, narrow classrooms and poor building layout. Not great facility for investing future school funds."
But closing Central would not be easy. The majestic brick school on Crapo Street has a long history and is located in the heart of the cultural district. It has a lot more alumni who might fight to keep it open than Southwestern. Perhaps the Powers offer makes the decision on which high school to close a little easier for the school district. After all, school officials can argue that the city will actually make money by closing Southwestern and avoid the hassles that would come with shuttering a local icon like Central.
I'm left wondering if Powers didn't approach the district and get some positive feedback on the offer before going public with their desire to buy Southwestern. It would seem odd to just float this idea in the press without having some inkling of where the district stood on the proposal. Going even further, who's to say the district didn't approach Powers about the sale? Just thinking out loud.
Regardless of how it went down, the district's next move should be known in a month or two: "Superintendent Linda Thompson, who has called closing a high school 'really possible,' said in an e-mail that there will be no talk of school consolidations before her administration presents its budget proposal to the board," Longley wrote. "That proposal is still being put together and is expected in April or May."
UPDATE: The Flint Journal is now reporting that Powers is offering $5 million for Southwestern.