High school anchors urban development


(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Days before Thanksgiving, Grand Rapids Public Schools announced it was granting a Grand Rapids neighborhood with one of its greatest wishes: a new high school.

Southwest Community Campus High School primarily will serve GRPS students graduating from Southwest Community Campus (SWCC) a dual immersion Spanish/English pre-K through eighth grade facility located in the Roosevelt Park neighborhood.

The high school is one of several projects included in the Plaza Roosevelt Development, a collaboration of Habitat for Humanity of Kent County, Mercy Health Saint Mary’s, Grand Rapids Public Schools, Dwelling Place, Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities, Ferris State University, Hispanic Center of Western Michigan and Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association.

John Helmholdt, executive director of communications and external affairs for GRPS, said the Roosevelt neighborhood does not have a nearby high school to serve students once they finish eighth grade, and that is contributing to declining enrollments.

He said many students leave GRPS each year rather than take the 45-minute Rapid bus ride to Union High School, which has served as the high school for most SWCC students.

Helmholdt said SWCC is one of GRPS’s most successful schools, with a wait list of nearly 200 students, so to lose those students once they hit high school is a significant loss to the district.

“Neighbors on the southwest side said they want a high school for their neighborhood,” Helmholdt said.

Thanks to a recently approved $175-million bond proposal, GRPS will make that request a reality.

“With the voter-approved bond, there is $20 million dedicated to constructing SWCC High School,” Helmholdt said.

He noted the high school was included in GRPS Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal’s Transformation Plan.

The high school will be located on a 5.5-acre tract of land that will house the entire Plaza Roosevelt Development.

Habitat for Humanity has been working for some time on assessing the needs of the Roosevelt Park neighborhood and convening partners for a major development project to address those needs.

The organization already has built over 60 houses in the neighborhood.

“Habitat has had a long history in the Roosevelt Park neighborhood,” said BriAnne McKee, executive director Habitat for Humanity of Kent County. “We want to create a neighborhood where everyone has an opportunity to thrive. Our role in this process has been to be a convener for neighborhood revitalization.”

She said plans also are in the works for affordable housing — both for homeowners and renters — as well as for increased medical services and after-school and community programming.

Many of the details still need to be ironed out, including the site plan for the project, which will begin between now and the spring.

While she couldn’t say how many single-family homes might be built as part of the project, McKee said it is definitely one of Habitat’s intentions.

“Certainly, we envision building Habitat housing on the property that we will be constructing and selling,” she said.

She said Habitat houses in the neighborhood typically appraise at $80,000-$110,000, and buyers receive zero percent interest mortgages.

Affordable rental units also are part of the project plans.

Dennis Sturtevant, CEO of Dwelling Place, said his organization is hoping to construct 60 two- and three-bedroom low-income housing tax credit apartments as part of the project.

He said depending on the final site plan, live-work spaces and commercial spaces might reside on the apartment building’s first floor.

“We are hoping to have the financing together in a year from now,” he said. “If we are successful, we would be under construction in 2018.”

Sturtevant said the apartment units would be rented at 60 percent of the area median income for Kent County.

Dwelling Place also is in talks with Habitat for Humanity about selling 10 rental properties it owns on Grandville Avenue to the nonprofit, which could then be converted to home ownership units and sold to Habitat families.

Other elements of the Plaza Roosevelt project include increased health services through Mercy Health Saint Mary’s Clinica Santa Maria; up to four new GRPS Great Start Readiness Program preschool classes; shared community spaces; and after school programming for teens.

McKee said the next step of the project is to complete the site planning process, which will include input from Roosevelt Park neighborhood residents.

A better idea of the project’s timeline, as well as cost estimates, will be known once the site plan is finished.

But, Helmholdt said he expects to see the first SWCC High School students pour through the school’s doors in fall 2019 or fall 2020.

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