2018-02-04 / Editorial

E.T. White sold, it’s time to move on

Thursday evening the Lapeer Community Schools (LCS) Board of Education agreed to sell the 95-year-old E.T. White building and property on West Genesee to a Wixom developer for $450,000. Plans likely include demolition of the former high school for a mixed-use development on the 7.4-acre site.

While the building has sentimental meaning and a lot of good memories for people who attended school at the E.T. White or played ball on its property, the fact is the building has sat vacant for 10 years and falls into further disrepair every day. It has become an eyesore to neighbors, and a public safety risk. Numerous windows have been broken out and people have trespassed in the building, putting themselves at risk of injury.

LCS hasn’t held classes in the building since 1995. It’s time to demolish the building and move on.

Interest in commercial and retail real estate in Lapeer right now is robust, and the buyer — K2 Retail Construction — has a proven track record of successful developments that attract major nationally-known stores. The company was introduced to Lapeer when it came to town two years ago to remodel and rebuild the former Kmart store to become what is now Michaels, Marshalls and the soon-to-be new location of Dunham’s Sports.

The owner saw opportunity in Lapeer — in the E.T. White property — and began negotiations with LCS about nine months ago to purchase the property. It’s a good deal, maybe the best they were going to get considering the building will have to be demolished at an estimated cost close to $250,000.

There had been earlier offers, but not nearly enough. In December 2011 Lapeer Township resident and businessman Roy Sexton made a $100,000 offer. He proposed to renovate the building into a community center. Two weeks later, Pastor Gary Gillim of then Maple Grove Church in Lapeer Township offered LCS $200,000. He sought to open a community resource center.

Both good men, both good ideas — but their offers were well below the $700,000 appraised value at the time. Then the Great Recession hit and that killed much interest in the property.

LCS talked with several other developers over the years, but the price wasn’t right or there wasn’t the confidence by school officials that the property would be developed in such a way to enhance the community.

Due to declining birthrates and enrollment, LCS had no use for the E.T. White building that would otherwise need millions of dollars in upgrades and renovations in order to bring it up to minimal occupancy standards.

The $450,000 sale will go into LCS’s capital improvement fund to go toward new furnaces, windows, doors and other expenses in the district’s aging buildings.

School officials have had discussions with an alumni association and the Lapeer County Historical Society and made arrangements to save and preserve the exterior stone markings that bear the name E.T. White for future generations to remember. Other artifacts from within the building including several drinking fountains and marble will also be removed and used elsewhere in the district or community.

It’s a bittersweet experience to have to part with a building that has stood near the intersection of West Genesee and Main Street for close to a century, but while the E.T. White building served the community many good years its time has come to an end.

The property will be redeveloped, create new jobs, bring new tax revenue to the City of Lapeer that is increasingly running out of real estate to build new stores and create new investment in the community.

We commend LCS for holding onto the E.T. White building and property for as long as they did, holding out for a better offer while few materialized until Thursday’s purchase agreement. The building has sat idle long enough; ten years is long enough.

Memories will remain, but it’s time to move on.

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