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Private donors pay for new public school building at Grand Rapids nature preserve

Walk up to the new school inside the Blandford Nature Center and a flock of brown hens will quietly greet you. The hens are part of a business lesson about entrepreneurs at the Blandford School.

Credit Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
The Blandford School's hen house and garden are near the school.

On Monday students and staff gathered to open the new school building paid for through mostly private funds.

Jennifer Brandstatter wipes tears from her cheek during the celebration. She moved her oldest of two daughters from a Catholic school to attend  6th grade at Blandford and she “loves it”.

“I just, I cry when I think about it. It’ just she’s having the best time of her life. The teachers are amazing. I mean it’s just such a unique experience,” Brandstatter explained.

Brandstatter heard about Blandford School from her former neighbor, Krista Harmon. All three of Harmon’s kids have attended. Her youngest is there this year.

“The opportunities they have here, whether its raising their own chicken, to cross country skiing, to having that magic spot; those experiences and the way they get to grow is unparalleled,” Harmon said.

The Blandford School is located within a nature preserve. The new building replaces three run-down modular buildings.

“It’s hard to believe they could even function over there,” Brandstatter said, “It was just so small and crammed. With all the stuff that they have and do it’s hard to believe they’ve been there that many years. So this is just, it is a gift, when they say that it really is.”

Grand Rapids Public Schools could not afford to replace the old portable buildings. The celebration comes less than a month after budget constraints prompted Grand Rapids Public Schools to close ten school buildings.

But the school has a great reputation. Students have to test in and it’s one of the top rated schools in Michigan. So private donors, most notably The Wege Foundation, stepped in to pay for almost all of the costs.

“It’s insurance in a district that’s struggling to find money,” Blandford teacher Jeff Lende said of the new new building. He’s been at Blandford for nine years. He loves the unique, outdoor program and that all sixty students are “motivated” to attend since they have to apply to get in.

“The big question was, ‘what’s going to happen if (the old building) falls apart?’ The district didn’t have any money. I mean for a school for 60 kids?” Lende said doubtfully.

He loves the new space. He and another teacher hand carved wooden doors to the two main classrooms.

“I’m of course going to miss the old building because that’s where all the memories are,” former Blandford School student Maggie Cranson said. But still, the 13-year old thinks the new one is a “really cool” building.

“It’s definitely an upgrade from the old one,” Cranson said, “It’s a clean slate and I think these kids are going to have fun making their own memories in it.”

Lindsey Smith helps lead the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Radio’s Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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