Utica sells land, hopes new housing boosts enrollment

Nicquel Terry
The Detroit News

Utica Community Schools has sold two huge parcels of land to developers with hopes new housing will attract more families to the shrinking school district.

Michigan’s second largest school district has watched its enrollment drop every school year forcing officials to lay off teachers and cut student programming.

Utica projects enrollment for this school year to be 27,683, a decline of 440 students. The district lost 200 students last year and is projected to lose another 1,600 in the next five years, according to Stephanie Eagen, an assistant superintendent.

The district had planned to build schools on the two lots, but decided to sell them because of the decline in students. The deals netted the district $7.7 million.

“It was an asset that we know we no longer needed,” said Timothy McAvoy, a district spokesman.

A 40-acre plot west of Schoenherr between 21 and 22 Mile roads in Shelby Township sold for $3.1 million, while a 73-acre lot northeast of the 26 Mile and Schoenherr intersection in Washington Township sold for $4.6 million.

Rochester Hills-based Arteva Homes bought both pieces of land. Arteva bought the 40-acre lot in May 2015 and purchased the 73-acre lot in August.

Brian Szliter, president of Arteva Homes, said the company plans to build 150 single-family homes on the lot in Washington Township, with a groundbreaking in about one year.

Arteva will build 69 single-family homes and a 60-unit senior assisted living facility on the Shelby Township property. Szliter said he will begin construction on that project in January or February.

Most of the homes built by Arteva will be two-story colonial homes priced at about $400,000, he said.

“It was a great opportunity to pick these pieces up that were already in well-established areas with lots of amenities and commercial and retail development,” Szliter said. “And obviously Utica Community Schools is a great school system that attracts a lot of families with kids.”

District officials say they expect the new developments will drive student enrollment and per pupil revenue for Utica.

“The strength of our school district ensures the land sales will result in new families relocating to our community,” Superintendent Christine Johns said in a statement.

Utica isn’t the only Michigan school district that has been forced to find ways to offset budget deficits and drops in enrollment. Detroit Public Schools has closed nearly 100 school buildings since 2009 and has sold a number of its vacant buildings.

The number of school age children living in the Utica district is expected to steadily decline in the next 25 years, according to the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments. It estimates a 4.2 percent drop in the number of children ages 5-17 between 2010-40.

After the end of the school year in June, Utica schools laid off 35 full-time teachers to balance a $277.6 million budget. It also transferred $10.5 million from a fund equity to plug a $19.3 million deficit. To make up the remaining deficit, it made cuts to technology and other areas and restructured programs such as elementary English Language.


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Twitter: @NicquelTerry