By Graham Sturgeon, co-editor

The Durand Board of Education held another community forum Tuesday, April 12 to discuss the potential sale of Wilbur Bills Elementary, and this time the board took the meeting to the residents of Bancroft. The Bancroft Village Council asked the board to hold the meeting in Bancroft to give more residents the chance to speak with the board and high bidder, Kim Bowen of Welcome Home Veterans, and roughly 30 community residents attended the meeting at the Bancroft Village Hall.

Much of the discussion was initiated by area resident Julie McKay, who had not been able to attend either of the previous two community forums regarding the Wilbur Bills sale. She questioned Bowen about her plan to secure the facility and to protect the village from potentially dangerous veterans with PTSD, the financial sustainability of Bowen’s non-profit business plan, how patients/residents would be provided with transportation, and why Bowen selected Bancroft instead of a city that is closer to mental health service facilities.

While Bowen pointed out that she could not spend the money to develop detailed plans before she is allowed to purchase the building, she did explain Monday that she is dedicated to the safety of village residents. She also talked about working out an In Lieu of Taxes agreement with the village to compensate for not paying property taxes, and she assured residents that her facility would eventually provide transportation. She also called Bancroft the “perfect location” because of the county’s lack of veteran housing, as well as the building’s proximity to I-69. While she wants to help Shiawassee County veterans primarily, she expects veterans to travel from all over the east side of the state to utilize her proposed facility.

Most importantly, Bowen addressed McKay’s concern about safety and mental health services by reminding her that the facility would have nurses on site to care for the residents, therapists and psychologists on staff to provide treatment and counseling, and doctors on call if needed. She also pointed out that dangerous, unstable applicants and residents would be transported to a more secure facility until they are able to get their behavioral issues under control.

McKay pointed out that Bancroft Police Chief Jim LePage works only 20 hours per week, so the facility would need to provide security in case a young, powerful veteran suffering with PTSD was unable to be controlled. Bowen and military veteran/constitutional activist Matthew Shepard took turns answering the question.

Bowen reminded McKay that PTSD sufferers just want to be normal and are searching for the tools they need to live a normal life. Shepard added that residents should be more concerned with the “belligerent bar patrons” that are allowed to roam the village every night than PTSD sufferers who are receiving treatment and trying to better their lives.

While McKay was glad to have more clarification about the proposed facility, she was not satisfied that Bancroft was the right location for such a home. She does not want the village to become a destination for homeless veterans, and she did not think that the business could sustain itself, according to past tax information she had gathered concerning Bowen’s Welcome Home Assisted Living in Owosso.

Durand board members asked McKay what she would do with the building, since it is costing the school district approximately $15,000 per year to maintain and has been the target of vandalism. She proposed a vocational school, and the board informed her that they have already explored that avenue, both independently and on a cooperative county-wide level. Sup’t. Craig McCrumb explained that the revenue for such a facility would have to come out of the school district’s coffers, and that is not a feasible option for a district that is trying to restore its fund equity.

Bancroft Village President Chris Johnson again reminded the board that the village is in a severe financial situation and that he would like to see a taxable business on the 15-acre site.

After McKay had exhausted her list of questions, several area residents took turns speaking in support of the sale. Margaret Hemenway, a retired Durand teacher and Shiawassee Township resident, wasn’t going to speak during the forum, but had heard enough after more than an hour of back-and-forth discussion amongst McKay, Bowen, and board members.

“Every time I drive by that school I want to cry,” Hemenway said. “For five years it has sat there empty and I don’t see any businesses knocking on the door to buy it. I don’t care who comes in here, there will be people you don’t like to deal with. It’s been five years, and it’s time to move on. I give her (Bowen) credit for wanting to start something. People will come and visit at the facility, people will work there. We can sit here and let the town die, but maybe this is the start of a turnaround for Bancroft.”

Area residents Laverne Wiggins and Kathy Olund also voiced their support for Bowen and her proposed facility, reminding everyone that there are already undesirables in the community and stating that everyone deserves a chance to better themselves.

The Durand Board of Education will have its regular monthly meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, April 18 at Durand Middle School. While it is unlikely a formal vote to sell the school will be voted on during the meeting, it is likely that the matter will be discussed.

Durand BOE Discusses Wilbur Bills Sale was last modified: April 18th, 2016 by Karen Elford