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TONTOGANY -- What was once a controversial project to consolidate three elementary schools into one new building is moving forward and is scheduled to be completed on time next summer, an official said last week.
The new Otsego Elementary in Tontogany is about 35 percent completed and should be finished in June, 2012, in time to open for the 2012-2013 school year, said Jim Garber, superintendent of Otsego Local Schools.
The 87,000-square-foot school will house preschool through fifth grade, replacing the three elementary schools in Haskins, Weston, and Grand Rapids, which have a combined 120,000 square feet.
Many residents were angered by the district's announcement to close the three schools as a cost-saving move in 2009.
"There was an agreement that the district could do everything it could to keep the three schools open," Mr. Garber said. "Once reality set in -- the economy went south and the costs, because of declining enrollment, soared -- it really made keeping three schools open impractical."
Mr. Garber estimated the district saved $1.7 million this year by closing Weston Elementary because of lower staffing costs.
But as the crews come out and put up the roof and finish the masonry, public sentiment is changing and people are more excited for the new school, Mr. Garber said.
Once the elementary school is finished, the district will begin renovating the junior high as part of a $40 million districtwide project.
As to the fate of the three old schools -- Weston already closed in 2009 and the other two buildings will close in 2012 -- officials hope to make a deal with the villages of Weston, Grand Rapids, or Haskins to either sell the schools as is for $1 or sell the land to recoup the cost of razing the buildings.
Mr. Garber said he was excited for younger students to feel like they go to Otsego Local Schools instead of divided elementary schools in three villages.
"We're hoping [Otsego Elementary] gives the district a sense of more community," Mr. Garber said.