An historic day for Dowagiac

Published 1:41 am Thursday, April 17, 2003

By By JOHN EBY / Dowagiac Daily News
Members of the Dowagiac school board include President Randy Cuthbert, Vice President Tina Haggin, Secretary Sherry File, Treasurer Jane Laing and Trustees Bill Lawrence, Leslie "Faye" Edwards and Larry Seurynck. Former board members who "helped blaze the trail" included Terry Harris, Dr. Jean O. Smith, Kurt Wiesemes, Dan Neese, Bob Cripe, Linda Lorenz and Joan Lyons.
Retired superintendent Ron Jones "initiated discussions about our school facilities going all the way back into the early 1990s," Crandall said. "We certainly thank Ron for getting the ball rolling. Fanning and Howey (based in Michigan City, Ind.) has been our architectural firm from day one, going all the way back to 1996. (1972 DUHS graduate) Scott Winchester played basketball when I was assistant coach. Scott has come back home. He not only lives here, but he's also lead architect on this project for Fanning and Howey."
Construction manager Skillman Corp. is out of Indianapolis," but is also now located in Grand Rapids. "We were the first school district in Michigan to go with them and we appreciate their patience. Brad Skillman is here, as are Norb Drobot and Mike Kounelis."
Crandall also acknowledged Harry Garrelts, previous owner of the 60-acre site along Riverside Drive to Mathews Street where the 144,000-square-foot school for 450 to 500 students with an 824-seat auditorium will be constructed over the next two years. Dowagiac Middle School construction is scheduled for completion in April 2005, with the building open for classes in the fall of 2005.
Mayor Donald D. Lyons said Dowagiac's "four-legged stool can't be firm and level if one or more of the legs is short or weak. When planning for the future of Dowagiac, we view those four legs as industry, which creates jobs and contributes to the financial well-being of the city; commerce, which provides the goods and services the community needs; our neighborhoods, where we live and raise our families; and our youth, to whom we're entrusting our future."
Winchester commented, "Education is a journey, not destination. A building is just a tool as part of that journey. It does take the community to raise the children into viable members of society."
Fanning-Howey was one of four firms interviewed "They really tried to involve the school district, school personnel and the community," Crandall said. "They held up to their promises. Promises were made and promises were kept. We have been involved in numerous design planning meetings and visiting school districts throughout northern Indiana and southwestern Michigan. Any citizen was welcome to participate. It truly has been a collaborative effort involving so many people."
Cuthbert praised his board for "their hard work, long hours of study weighing the pros and cons of each decision and, most of all, the teamwork you each displayed in the unified decisions we have made."
Ten years ago Sister Lakes Principal Dave Strlekar tapped her to serve on a committee to make recommendations for improving school facilities. Daniel, now on the verge of 21, was in sixth grade. Sarah had just started kindergarten. That committee produced the first bond try for a new high school. She thought talking to people and sharing their passion would be enough for passage.
Its defeat surprised her "and I realized I had a lot to learn about the unique dynamics of Dowagiac. Next came the PRIDE campaign. We had a great brochure, a video, yard signs and we talked to everyone who would listen for six weeks. That was a tough one for me. I couldn't understand why our community wouldn't support something that seemed to me so important for our kids.
Ostyn said, "I learned so much from my experiences with bond campaigns over the past 10 years and from my involvement with all of you. First, Dowagiac is full of sincere and talented people who are passionate about their community, their schools and their kids. Second, we have fine leaders in our community and in our schools so we can move into the future with great confidence. Third, the kids of this town are absolutely awesome. They are worthy of our very best. Fourth, progress is never without struggle and, at the same time, progress is never realized without hope. True progress is not in a building, but in our kids. They are the reason for the struggle and they are the hope for the future. Lastly, when we work together for a noble purpose, we can accomplish anything."
While Daniel and Sarah will not be students in the new school, their mother imagines them teaching there "in this wonderful town. Because of their experiences with Dowagiac education, they both want to be teachers. In fact, Daniel will complete his education degree just when our new middle school opens. At times this has been a very difficult struggle, but throughout the years we have continued to believe in the people of Dowagiac. Now we can also believe Dowagiac has a future. Today it is my great pleasure and privilege to say 'Yes for Kids' has finally happened."
Carlson added, "It's a great feeling knowing that today we begin, as our campaign motto stated, building the future. This new middle school will be more than just bricks and mortar. It will give our children and generations of children to come the opportunities to learn, to compete and to receive the quality educations that they all so deserve. This is one of our town's greatest accomplishments from the last decade. What we begin today will have long-term effects on Dowagiac by attracting new business, new homeowners and having a positive impact on our local economy. Carol and I would like to thank the school board for all of its support over the past six years."
Campaign committee chairs included Bill Livingston, Dave Moran, Martha Cox, Bev White, Beth Cripe and Tina Haggin.
Officials in attendance included: state Rep. Neal Nitz, R-Baroda; Chris Siebenmark, representing state Sen. Ron Jelinek, R-Three Oaks; County Commissioners James Sayer of Dowagiac, Terri Kitchen of Silver Creek Township and Minnie Warren of Pokagon Township; and City Manager Bill Nelson.
Crandall recognized township Supervisors Bob Ausra of Silver Creek, Bill Kays of Keeler, Dr. Frank Butts of Wayne, Naida Wallace of LaGrange and John True of Pokagon; Assistant Superintendent Todd Bingaman; Business Manager Hal Davis; secretary Debbie Heeter; Central administrators Ron Walsworth and John Pasternak; Central staff members involved in the design planning phase, Brian Tompkins, Tom Stansifer, who directed the band for "America the Beautiful" and "On Dowagiac," and, and Bruce Shaffer.
Representing Southwestern Michigan College were President Dr. David M. Mathews, Board of Trustees Chairman Dr. Fred L. Mathews and former president David C. Briegel.
Co-chairs for the first bond campaign were John Vylonis and Jim Peterson. Dave Moran, Dave Pilot and Bill Livingston, who may have the distinction of serving on all four campaigns, Terri Jo Foster and Larry Seurynck also played key roles in subsequent campaigns, including the PRIDE (People Rebuilding Interest in Dowagiac Education) committee.