Impact of school closings on market to be determined

How a local school board's decision to close three elementary schools could potentially affect the regional housing market-if at all-is not yet clear, say area Realtors.

"I've always been a believer that schools have a big impact on the housing market," said Matt Case, president-elect of the Traverse Area Association of Realtors. "It will be interesting to see how it shakes out."

The Traverse City Area Public School District is slated to close three elementary schools-Bertha Vos, Glen Loomis and Norris-at the end of the 2007-08 school year. The school board's decision came after months of public meetings about building decisions. A 100-member steering committee considered grade reconfiguration and enrollment trends, with hundreds attending the sessions that resulted in a recommendation to the superintendent.

This summer, Superintendent James Feil recommended the trio of school closures, which in turn spurred an especially strong response within the Bertha Vos community.

Several Bertha Vos families, upset with the district's decision-making process, moved their children out of TCAPS and into neighboring Elk Rapids schools.

In September, parents' group Save Bertha Vos, Inc. filed a lawsuit against the school district, alleging that TCAPS' decision to close Bertha Vos violates both the Michigan Revised School Code of 1976 and the Michigan Constitution and that the decision was "arbitrary and unreasonable." The lawsuit requests that a temporary restraining order be entered against TCAPS to prevent it from continuing to violate the School Code and the Constitution and to prevent it from contracting for any services that would foster or advance the closure of Bertha Vos.

Whether any of the schools' planned closings will prompt homeowners to relocate or will deter buyers from considering homes near the schools is unclear.

It's just too soon to tell, said Nancy Albrecht, an agent with Real Estate One who specializes in homes located in the Bertha Vos neighborhood of Holiday Hills.

Sam Abood, a Coldwell Banker Schmidt agent, agreed.

"We may see (the school closings) become more of a factor in the future than right now," he said.

Parents also have ample choices when it comes to schools for their children, from electing to open enroll at other public schools in the area to opting for private or charter school education. This means parents may not necessarily be concerned about whether a particular school is close to their home, said Andy Stireman, of Coldwell Banker Schmidt.

"Parents seem to be finding a way to get their kids to school," he said.

TCAPS has closed several other elementary schools in the last decade and, as Stireman pointed out, previous school closings didn't seem to affect the housing market.

"We've been through this before with other school closings, and I didn't notice it then," he said. BN