Midland County ESA breaks ground on a new future

The school building at 3917 N.Jefferson Avenue in Midland will spread its educational wings once again as it has many times in its 138-year history, following a Dec. 5 groundbreaking ceremony. The goal is to provide more and better spaces for the diverse group of students of the Midland County Educational Services Agency.

From its roots as a one-room schoolhouse in 1886 that saw seven students pass through its doors, the building known as Sugnet School will now fulfill the dream for MCESA students.

Superintendent John Searles thanked all who began the journey with the district five years ago when planning began, all those who worked with the architects and planners and all those who helped see the August 2022 $17 million ballot proposal win approval from the majority of voters in Midland County.

Midland County ESA Superintendent John Searles speaks at the groundbreaking ceremony.
“Today is a point along this journey, “ he relates to the more than 50 people who provided the cheer in the gym on this otherwise dreary Tuesday  “We have been thinking about and working toward equity for all kids and we had this dream that all kids would have access to high quality spaces and feel the love of the community wrapped around them. 

 “Because not only do they have high quality, the best people, in front of them every day, but they come to a place that is inviting and they feel like they are loved. So not only are the people embracing them but the space too. And that is the idea behind what we are trying to create.”

Three Rivers Corporation will lead the revitalization project through the four construction phases, the first beginning next month. TRC Senior Project Manager Thom Laney hopes to have the entire project completed by December 2025.

TRC worked with WTA Architects of Saginaw and MacMillan Associates Consulting Engineers of Bay City as partners on the project.

MCESA Sugnet Renovation Drawing
TRC President Jon Lynch talked about the structural upgrades, such as the lighting in the gymnasium, the upgrades in air conditioning and the replacement of tiles and other material containing asbestos, but more importantly, he says, “The ESA provides outstanding learning and support service year round, … to a diverse group of learners. The continued transformation of this place will further facilitate the success of students and staff alike. Renovations to Sugnet School are not only about upgrading infrastructure. They signify a commitment to providing to our students a learning environment that is state of the art, and conducive to the most effective delivery of special education services, career and technical education, and early childhood learning.”

Jordan Johnston, WTA Architects project manager, said the renovation became a “very special project” for his team and thanked the district for allowing them to work closely with staff to provide the detail necessary in the design to allow students and staff have an appropriate learning experience for their needs.
Michelle Bahr, retired director of MCESA Special Edcuation
Michellle Bahr, the retired director of MCESA Special Education, talked about the “miracles” performed everyday by a dedicated staff, in spite of the limitations imposed by the old building, and she says she cannot wait to come back to the school to see the work.

“I have watched fabulous ESA staff members here work miracles. They work miracles everyday despite what the building looks like,” she says, before adding, “But our kids deserve the beautiful, upgraded environments other schools have had in this time, and I am thrilled we are going to have it.”

Included among the upgrades and additions will be additional classrooms for K-12 students who are severely emotionally impaired - allowing additional space for students to take a break- revitalizing classrooms on the first floor to be more inviting, a newly-designed entryway and renovating office space to accommodate a break room for employees,

The ballot millage will also be shared by the Longview Early Childhood Center,  which is also part of the MCESA. The Midland County Educational Service Agency is one of 56 Michigan intermediate school districts that serve the educational needs of students, parents, and staff in local schools. For more on the programs that staff help provide, visit www.midlandesa.org.

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Read more articles by Ralph E. Wirtz.

Ralph E. Wirtz is a native Midlander who retired from the Midland Daily News as a managing editor in 2015. He has been freelancing since then in between traveling and volunteering. He has four adult children, all who graduated from Bullock Creek High School as he did. He is an eight-year veteran of the U.S. Navy and a Central Michigan University grad. He can be reached at ralphewirtz@gmail.com.