Podcast: A Marble Elementary Retrospective

February 17, 2022

Students being interview in the hallways at the new Marble Elementary School Building on Nov. 18.
Students being interview in the hallways at the new Marble Elementary School Building on Nov. 18.


Pendell: Welcome to Portrait Perspectives, the official Portrait Podcast. I’m your host, Edith Pendell, and today, we’ll be diving into the new Marble Elementary School building- how it came about, what it replaced, and it’s place in our community. 

The first Marble Elementary School was built in 1860 on land donated by John P Marble. It closed in 1911, but was replaced on the same site in 1934 by Marble number two, a two-storey brick schoolhouse. Marble #2 now holds the Eastwood childhood development center, which is a preschool and after-school program. Marble number three was built in 1952 across the street, and stood until two years ago. 

In 2020, The third Marble Elementary was demolished and rebuilt. However, that isn’t the whole story. I had the opportunity to talk to our Superintendent, Dori Leyko, about how this came to be. 

Leyko: So back in the 2015-16 school year is when we developed a committee to start looking at putting a bond proposal out to the community for the 2017 elections to knock down, demo, and rebuild 5 elementary schools. So, that’s what went on the ballot in May of 2017 which very narrowly passed by about 40 votes.

Pendell: Did you feel any pressure, with this being your first project as superintendent?

Leyko: Hugely. It was really my biggest project was getting information out to people. So shortly before I came into the district, they had an elementary bond proposal fail. So there was also some added pressure since it was the second time around to get it passed so that we could upgrade the spaces for our kids and staff.”=

Pendell: According to Leyko, the new buildings feature solar fields and solar powered car ports, upgraded air conditioning systems, natural lighting, and higher ceilings. 

Just as I’m sure the community mourned their Marble in 1911 and 1952, those watching their Marble number three demolished and replaced these last few years found it profound. I asked former Marble attendees at my high school about their experiences in the old building.

Maddie Polleys, a junior who went to marble from kindergarten to 5th grade, had fond memories of the art room.

Polleys: It was a pretty small room and then we just had a bunch of tables in there and we had our projector and I remember the back counter was just filled with all the projects that she was having all her students do so when I was younger I was super excited to light do all the projects that I saw because I knew I was going to get to do all of them.

Pendell: She first heard about the rebuilding project when she was still in Middle School and was mostly excited about it, although found it bittersweet. 

Polleys: I mean it’s weird because when I think of the building I think of all the places I was in when I was there but I know that that’s not there anymore so it’s kind of like sad because you know I’ll never get to like go in there and see like what it was like when I went there

Pendell: Carmella Watson’s first day at marble was her first day of 4th grade.

Watson: I moved here from New York in 4th grade so it was my first year in Michigan.

Pendell: Where in New York?

Watson: New York City.

Pendell: That must have been really big shift

Watson: Yeah

Pendell: There’s nothing here like NYC 

I asked her about when she heard about the demolition.

Watson: I think I heard over the summer before, when I was in 8th or 9th grade because my younger brother was in 4th grade, before we went online. And i started seeing all the plans and stuff that summer

Pendell: How did you initially react to that?

Watson: I was kinda, not thrilled about it. My experience in the building was nice and I didnt think it really needed to- If it were up to me I would want to renovate it instead of tearing down the whole thing.

Pendell:  I wondered how her and her little brother felt seeing the  project

Watson: Whenever we passed it, especially while they were knocking down the old marble, we both had mixed feelings. I don’t know how to describe it. We both had a lot of memories in the building”

Pendell: An elementary school is a touchstone of community. During my conversation with Superintendent Leyko I found that she understood the significance of a loss like this. 

So, I guess, what are your comments on the sort of, I guess the good, the good and the bad of demolishing elementary school and sort of where, where the balance is struck?

Leyko: Yeah, sure. I mean, it’s definitely and we weighed those options with the community committee super heavily in terms of, we know that there’s just there’s emotional connections to the current buildings and we know that and it’s, it’s hard to watch something you’re connected to be demolished, but at the same time, we wanted to focus on making sure we provided the best spaces for our kids moving forward…So I can I can understand that feeling of loss, but we really were focused on making sure that these new buildings were healthy and safe and provided really great learning spaces for the kids for the next 50 years.”

Pendell: I also met with some kids in Mrs. VanRemmen’s 4th-grade class at Marble and asked them what they thought of the shift. They remembered the old building well, and enjoyed both. They had some…stories to tell.

“My friend found a chunk of old Marble and give it to my brother.”
Pendell: Really?

“They’re a good chunk of the building marble.”

Pendell:  Yeah, like how big?

“it’s like this big.”

Pendell: So just like the size of a coin or paper?”

“A real chunk of the building. 

“Like bricks?”

“Yeah. In March.”

“I know this might sound dumb, but I would have tackled the building. I would have jumped on the wrecking ball that they used to attack the building.”

“Then you would have died.”

“I know I’m dumb. But I do it for fun”

Pendell: When you heard they were going to knock down marble and build a new one. How did you find out- who told you? 

“Well, um, they told us before they were going to knock down. But I was pretty happy because they had a picture on the wall of how it was gonna look like and I was pretty happy because the old Marvel was pretty dirty. I didn’t like it.” 

Pendell: That was an excerpt from an interview with Mac Spitzer, Apollo Weller and Jaenat Nassir. I also asked  Rowan Douglass, Jake Hernandez and Rema Ibrahim how they found out. 

“The Wrecking Ball”

Pendell: The wrecking ball itself?

“I think he means like he just saw it happen.”

“I don’t know when that was but my teacher told me that that the old school was going to get rebuilt. And I felt sad that happened because I have like most of my school memories over there.” 

Pendell: The kids seemed to like the new amenities, but a sticking point was the garden. It came up when I asked about their favorite things to do in the old building. 

“It was probably yeah, I was like going outside into the garden.”

“Oh the garden, I remember that.”

“Dude, they could have just rebuilt it. It was so sad, especially since it was near the art room!”

Pendell: They appreciated, however, that some things remained.

“The only thing that hasn’t changed is the playground.” 

Pendell: It seems that every couple generations gets its own Marble. Even the modern-looking Marble of today will someday be “old marble”. We are caught in a moment of transition, where our experience of history is that of destruction and a fresh start. But, as Leyko said, change includes loss. The students, present and past, see Marble 3 as an important part of their childhoods. Because of this, it was hard for them to see it go. 

I’d like to shout-out Mrs. Vanremmen’s 4th grade class, and everyone who spoke to me about all the iterations of Marble elementary school. 


Thank you for listening to our podcast, Portrait Perspectives. If you have a topic suggestion for the next Portrait Perspectives, email: [email protected], and as always, make sure to follow East Lansing portrait on instagram, facebook, and twitter, which can be found at the top left-hand corner of our website.

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Photo of Edith Pendell
Edith Pendell, Multimedia Editor

Edith Pendell is a member of the Class of 2023 and is the Social Media Editor for Portrait. This is her second year on staff as a junior. Edith’s favorite...

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