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Local charter school plans to expand

Couple gifts 10 acres to school to make dream a reality

By Judy Reed

When Dan George was 14 years old, he made the JV basketball team as a freshman in high school. He was excited about the chance to play, and told his mom he needed a new pair of shoes—like the classic Chuck Taylors by Converse. His mom told him they couldn’t afford them, but she would pray with him that God would make it possible. So they prayed about it, and George went off to school, not thinking much more about it. He was surprised when his mom picked him up at school at noon, and drove straight to the shoe store. She told him that she had received a gift certificate from someone in the mail that morning that made it possible to buy the shoes. It was a lesson in faith that George never forgot.

“If you think about it, that means someone sent that gift certificate before I even made the team,” he said. God had prepared the way.

Now, as Superintendent and School Leader at Creative Technologies Academy, a local charter school on Pine Street, George still dreams big, and holds on to the faith lessons he learned as a teenager. “In all the years I have been here at CTA, I’ve always wanted to be able to expand,” he said. “I’ve had my eye on two pieces of property. To the south is 5 or 6 acres, and 10 to the west (which belongs to Fred and Carolee Gunnell). But I didn’t know how we could afford it. Then I got convicted remembering my lesson in faith.”

George said that originally he was working with the Community Building Development Team to possibly build a recreation center to the south that both CTA and the community could use. But it turned out that the water table was too high. So Sue Wolfe suggested he speak with Fred Gunnell about buying the property to the west of CTA. “We had a meeting, and I asked him what he thought a fair price would be for the 10 acres,” explained George. “He said he would have his realtor, Leon Stout, get back with me.”

George was surprised by what Stout told him when he called him. The Gunnells wanted to donate the 10 acres to the school. George was overjoyed. “It’s gratifying that Fred and Carolee want to do this for us,” he said.

Fred Gunnell told the Post that CTA had been good neighbors for 28 years, and that he and Carolee enjoyed seeing the kids there. “We are both educators, and think they do a good job. We heard they needed space, so we gave it to them,” he explained.

Fred and Carolee both taught at Sparta, he as a high school teacher and counselor, and she as an elementary teacher. Fred also was also an administrator at Michigan Tech.

CTA has 315 students enrolled in Kindergarten through 12th grade, and sits on 7 acres. The additional 10 acres will more than double their size and help them realize the dream to have their own student activity center. “It will be more than a gym; it will have extra offices. It will give us our own place to have graduation. It will meet our needs but also do some things for the community,” said George. 

“This is an awesome thing for us and the community,” said Autumn Mattson, the K-5 principal. “It wouldn’t be a big deal for a bigger school, but for us it’s a game changer.”

George noted that even though they are a public school, as a charter they only survive on donations. So what is it going to cost to build? He was given an estimate by Duane McIntyre of about $6 million. But that doesn’t faze George.

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s a $15 pair of basketball shoes or a $250,000 piece of property. God has all the money in the world,” he said.

The closing date on the property has been set for March 1 at 4 p.m. in the CTA auditorium.

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