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After building failure, renovated school will be ‘worth the wait’

Ground broken for restored and expanded Lee Middle and High School

Godfrey-Lee — Chilling wind and rain did not dampen a long-awaited  celebration at Lee Middle and High School.

District leaders, students, staff, community members and project partners gathered to break ground on a two-year restoration and expansion project. Over 100 years old, the building experienced a structural failure in June 2019, causing part of the roof to collapse. 

In November 2020, the community voted in support of a $17.9 million bond program to fund a major transformation to the building.

“This is an exciting time for our students, staff and community,” Superintendent Michael Burde said. “This project is a testament to our community’s unity and support. Together, we are restoring and improving the school, to ensure it serves our students well for decades to come.”

Godfrey-Lee Superintendent Michael Burde, far left, stands with Lee Middle and High School students at the groundbreaking ceremony

Burde thanked the Godfrey-Lee community for its “tremendous support” and for the “staff’s perseverance after the building collapsed.” He described the construction project as “student centered” and said it will incorporate new technologies, opportunities for community connections and collaborative teaching and creative spaces. 

He added: “It will be worth the wait.” 

Godfrey-Lee Board of Education President Erik Mockerman also praised the community’s support. 

“Our community steps up and it shows,” Mockerman said. “Our kids consistently exceed our high expectations and now they will have spaces worthy of their caliber.”

Spaces for Education and Community 

Pouring footings will be the next step in the project. The school will remain open throughout the construction, which will be sequenced to impact daily education as little as possible. 

Building additions feature four new classrooms and a new cafeteria in the space of the current courtyard. Existing classrooms will undergo renovations to create 21st century learning spaces, equipped with new furnishings and technologies. The media center will also be transformed into a flexible learning space with direct access for community and students.

The Lee High School marching band performed for staff, students and community members at the groundbreaking ceremony

A new band room addition will be attached to the Oosterhouse Activities Center and accessible from the lower level of the middle school. The old band room space will be repurposed for a Community Wellness and Resource Clinic.

Additional health and wellness upgrades include installing air conditioning systems, updating fire alarm systems and security, adding roof insulation and replacing old mechanical, electrical and plumbing equipment.

‘Together, we are restoring and improving the school, to ensure it serves our students well for decades to come.’

– Superintendent Michael Burde

The bond project is being managed by Owen-Ames-Kimball Co. and designed by TowerPinkster.

Burde and the project team estimates an 18-month construction, but are prepared to expect delays. 

“This project has been a long time in the making and there is a lot of excitement,” Burde said. “People are ready.”

An architectural rendering of the restoration of Lee Middle and High School, a project which lead architect Steve Hoekzema said is ‘particularly meaningful to me and the community’ (courtesy)
A digital rendering of the new cafeteria at Lee Middle and High School (courtesy)
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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter, covering Caledonia, Kenowa Hills, Godfrey-Lee, Grand Rapids and is a roving reporter for GRCC, Wyoming, Kentwood and Byron Center. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News - covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry.  Following a stint as a copywriter for a Grand Rapids area PR firm, she transitioned from communications to freelance writing and reporting for SNN.  Read Alexis' full bio

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