PERE MARQUETTE TWP. — New Ludington Elementary School received a warm reception amid the blowing cold and snow Saturday morning during a ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house for tours.
Officials past and present were on hand for the ribbon-cutting at 11 a.m., started off by Ryan Lewis, the music teacher at Foster Elementary School, guiding students in a rendition of the “Star-Bangled Banner.” After a handful of speeches, a long orange ribbon was cut by Ludington School Board President Steve Carlson and Vice President Bret Autrey to the applause of the dozens and dozens on hand.
Afterwards, staff members with Ludington Area Schools gave tours into the afternoon.
“It was amazing. Each of the wings and rooms were so cozy,” said Collette Rodriguez, whose son Easton Paniuski is a second-grader who will be making the move to Ludington Elementary on Jan. 4, 2022. “I like that there’s separate rooms so they can work in one-on-one settings.
“It’s a lot to look at.”
The pair toured the building going past and into various classes and areas, from Heidi Urka’s first grade classroom in the first grade wing, past the expansive library, into the fifth grade wing, on to the cafeteria and then the gymnasium.
“I don’t think they could have built it better. Everything here is state of the art,” said George Foster, the father of school board member Scott Foster. “I’m anxious to look at what kind of difference it makes for our schools.”
Foster was glad that the students and staff at Ludington Elementary also appear to be safe should something come to pass in the future.
Carlson, after several tours went through the new building, said he heard very positive comments about it, too.
“I’m really happy that everyone get’s to see it, and we have another project coming.”
Voters in 2019 passed a $100 million bond to construct a new elementary school near the intersection of Jebavy Drive and Bryant Road as one half of the total project. The elementary school will replace the remaining elementary schools in the district — Foster, Franklin and Lakeview elementary schools and the Pere Marquette Early Childhood Center.
Construction of the new school began in March 2020 and was delayed a bit because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The school was originally scheduled to be completed by this past fall, but the delays pushed the opening to nearly the middle of the academic year — right at the Christmas holiday break. Still, to get the project done halfway through an academic year took much effort.
“Each one of (the trade contractors) worked together and navigated challenging times no one had seen before to deliver this project on time. This feat could not have been accomplished without the entire project team of GMB as architect and engineer, Communication by Design as technology consultants and the district’s staff providing the construction team the decisions we need,” said Ben Globke, a project engineer with the Christman Company.
As the tours were wrapping up outside the new school’s gymnasium, artists’ renderings of the coming work in the secondary school complex and athletic facilities were placed for what will be the second half of the project that is scheduled to be completed by 2024.
During the ceremony, current Foster fifth-grader and future Ludington Elementary fifth-grader Harper Rasmussen was a student representative and spoke about how she and her brother, Mason, are looking forward to the move in less than a month.
“I’m excited to meet all of the new students when our schools combine,” she said. “The library is going to be bigger, and I cannot wait to check it out. Since I play sports, I can’t wait to play in the gym and on the playgrounds…
“It’s good to be an Oriole.”
She, along with Mason Nickelson, Mia Nickelson and Landon Eaton held up the ribbon that was cut by Carlson and Autrey.
Those thanked during the ceremony leading up to the ribbon cutting included former Superintendent Jason Kennedy and the leader of the community group, Yes For LAS Committee, led by Vic Burwell that campaigned for the bond issue. Kennedy was at the ceremony, and he was presented a plaque from Carlson on behalf of the district for his work on the project. As Kennedy was being introduced, he wiped away a tear or two.
“I don’t think that many people know that Jason spent countless hours here, almost every night, making sure that this building came to fruition in a way that was promised the voters of this district,” Carlson said during the ceremony.
After the ceremony, Kennedy — now the superintendent at Fruiport Community Schools — was appreciative and glad to see the completion of the construction of the building.
“I have driven up a couple of times to drive around, but you know, it is bittersweet,” he said in the new school’s office. “A lot of work is going into what you’re seeing (Saturday). The vision of the board of education, our administrative team, our staff, strategic planning process led to what you see here.
“We strongly believed at the time that a quality staff with a supportive community and facilities that are state-of-the-art that support teaching and learning lead to an educational system that is premiere in the region…
“Certainly, there’s a ton of emotion… Simply know the community will be impacted by this for generations to come.”
Burwell was happy to look through the new building, too, Saturday morning. He last saw it when it was a basic structure.
“It was really inspiring to see the technical abilities and the technology that is present in each room,” he said. “The acoustics absolutely amaze me. It looks like it’s going to be really loud, but it isn’t. Each classroom, the desks, the layout.
“I wish I were in first grade.”
Ludington Interim Superintendent Peg Mathis began the ceremony and thanked many, and soon-to-be Ludington Superintendent Kyle Corlett was on hand for the open house, too. It was another instance where Corlett was able to see the community’s response to the district. And like the elementary students, Corlett’s first full day of work will be nearly in line with the opening of Ludington Elementary School.
“It’s been more I could have ever wished for,” said Corlett, who will have two children starting to attend the new school, too. “This is a testament ot the community support. Ludington has a reputation of being very supportive of the schools. That’s one thing that attracted me to an area.”
Corlett, too, joined in on some of the tours, and he was appreciative of the response.
“It’s so nice to hear people’s reactions on how nice the building was,” he said. “The kids love the playground and gym. The teachers like the extended learning spaces and having workrooms, and bringing the two elementaries together. Parents like that it’s clean and bright.”