Reform Is The Word

February 6, 2008
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Whispers abound as to what is going to be in the GRPS Superintendent's State of Our Schools address Feb. 9.

Preliminary reports say that Superintendent Bernard Taylor has indicated in broad strokes that the focus will be on academic achievement, school safety, truancy, discipline, dropout rates and building improvements.

The first “State of Our Schools” address may forever be marked, however, for yet another alignment of partnerships that create a significant and unique education opportunity, one that is likely to pique the interest of suburbanites in GRPS as a school of choice.

The Business Journal learned late last week that Taylor will announce this week a partnership with the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine now under construction on the “Medical Mile,” more commonly known as Michigan Street. GRPS sources close to the superintendent said that discussion also has been initiated to develop collaboration with key stakeholders along the Medical Mile corridor.

Last week the superintendent outlined reconfiguration of the high schools, and City High’s “school within a school,” already announced as having a focus on health sciences, is the “partner” for MSU’s med school. The program to be established is expected to become a “regional epicenter for health sciences secondary education.”

We are also hearing that Taylor wants to crack down on safety and truancy and is working with the city to develop and enforce a new truancy ordinance, engage neighborhood associations and expand the LOOP after-school program.

  • As debate stretches on in Lansing about reforms to the individual-policy insurance market, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan has launched an advertising pitch, as have the commercial insurers, nonprofits, HMOs and consumers groups opposed to the BCBSM-backed bills now being debated in the state Senate. They each are apparently trying to woo consumers, although just 6 percent of people with health insurance in Michigan buy individual policies. The PR machine cranked up again last week, when the nonprofit Blues released a study that estimated its “social mission” spending at $391 million, including: $66.7 million to help hospitals cover bad debt; $10.8 million for hospital charity care; $141.7 million in mandated subsidies for Medicare supplemental and group conversion coverage; $133.8 million in losses on individual policies; $17.2 million in informational, health care quality campaigns to benefit the public; $5 million in charitable giving; and $15.5 million in losses from public programs, such as MI Child.

That followed a study the previous week from the Anderson Economic Group in Lansing that pegged BCBSM’s benefit from its nonprofit status at $129 million annually, with $112 million of that coming primarily in exemptions from income, property and sales taxes. BCBSM says its tax-exemption benefits amount to $80 million. Go figure.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Tom George, R-Portage, plans to hold weekly meetings exploring the nuances of the four-bill package, which could take as long as several months. Priority Health, the Grand Rapids-based health coverage provider owned by Spectrum Health, has weighed in against the bills. Priority Health Vice President of Business Development Leon Lamoreaux testified before George’s committee last week.

  • Spartan Stores is launching a fundraising campaign for Habitat for Humanity. During February, customers will be able to purchase an HFH medallion for $1, $5 or $10 for “The House That Spartan Built.” The money will be donated to Habitat chapters in communities where Spartan has stores. “Spartan employees’ volunteer support and the generosity of Spartan shoppers will make a tremendous impact throughout our state, and we are most grateful to have such a partner headquartered in our state,” said Pam Doty-Nation, executive director of Habitat for Humanity in Kent County.

  • Last July three West Michigan companies announced plans for $27 million worth of new development at the site of the Crystal Springs Country Club in Gaines Township, on the southeast side of Greater Grand Rapids.

The development was going to feature a mix of residential, retail and office buildings at the 760-acre golf community, plus a new clubhouse with an upscale restaurant, banquet facilities and athletic club.

Today those plans have been scrapped, the would-be developers are out of the picture, and Watermark Country Club is now buying Crystal Springs Country Club. Doug Bouwer, one of the partners at Watermark, said that "technically" they are buying Crystal Springs from Byron Center State Bank, with the deal expected to be final in about a month. He would not disclose the price Watermark is paying.

Watermark will operate the Crystal Springs course this year "pretty much as they operated last year: as a private club with some public access on weekday mornings," said Bouwer. He added Watermark plans to take the course "totally private again in 2009."

But there will be construction at Crystal Springs this year: a $4 million investment that will be completed in the spring of 2009. The old clubhouse will be demolished and a new one built, featuring a restaurant open to the public, according to Bouwer. There also will be a banquet facility seating 350, and a swimming pool.

Bouwer said a restaurant is a "real drain" on a private club — unless it is open to the public.

Crystal Springs Country Club president Glenn Ver Murlen said the club "did everything possible over the last two years to keep the ship afloat and secure a future for the Crystal Springs neighborhood."

"We see Crystal Springs as a great location for another Watermark model country club," said Bouwer.

He conceded that country clubs throughout West Michigan are "pretty much" struggling to stay open. There are "pockets where certain clubs are doing good, but overall, I'd say, it's a struggle."

The problem facing golf courses in Michigan?

"A little bit of oversupply" and concerns about the economy, said Bouwer.

Since Watermark opened in Cascade Township in 1997, three other courses have opened nearby, he noted.

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