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6 Farmington schools ID'd for repurposing or closure

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

The headline has been updated to correct that six schools have been identified as under consideration for repurposing or closure.

Farmington — Harrison High and five other Farmington public schools were identified for possible closure or a different use next year by a committee studying the district’s future.

More than 100 parents and community members packed the district administration building Tuesday night to discuss the plans for Beechview, Highmeadow and Kenbrook elementary schools; Warner Upper Elementary and O.E. Dunckel Middle schools; as well as Harrison, one of four high schools in the district.

“This is not a decision-making night — this is a learning night for us,” newly elected board president Howard Wallach told the audience. “After a great deal of time and effort and study, these are the community’s recommendations to us.”

Paul Wills of Plante Moran CRESA, who presented the recommendations from the Building and Site Utilization Committee, said district enrollment had declined by about 2,000 students since 2008 and some of the district’s schools are aging. Operational costs also factored into the plan, he said.

In May, voters passed a 20-year plan to borrow $131.5 million and issue general obligation tax bonds. The bonds were expected to pay to remodel buildings to improve safety and security; build additions or remodel facilities; improve sites, including outdoor athletic facilities and playgrounds; and buy school buses to replace outdated vehicles.

Wills said the 20-year plan voters approved in May was not not intended for “massive expansions or additions.”

Two larger proposals were defeated by Farmington and Farmington Hills voters in 2013.

The restructuring plan also calls for reconfiguring grade levels at some schools, closing or repurposing support facilities, including the central office and transportation center, while relocating programs or operations to other sites. The district hopes to sell the vacated buildings.

Three public forums are planned in the fall to discuss the proposal. A final recommendation to the board on which sites would be closed and/or repurposed is expected in November. It’s unclear when the Board would vote on the final plan. The committee recommended the closures or changes to the schools be implemented in the fall of 2016.

Superintendent George Heitsch said it wasn’t clear when a decision would be finalized and the forums still have to take place. “We still have more information to gather,” he said.

John Herrington, a longtime coach who spoke out about the plans, didn’t like the idea of closing Harrison. He said he had been at the high school “since the first shovel was turned” at the site.

“I cannot imagine closing a school of that caliber,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of supporters out there that really want Harrison to stay open.”

Parents questioned the timing for finalizing the decision, which programs would be affected at individual schools and how students would adjust to the changes.

Sandra Rivett, whose children attend Harrison, came to share her views on the plans and urge the board to consider the students’ well-being.

“They have a very tough decision to make,” she said. “I just hope they listen … I think timing is very crucial. The decision doesn’t need to be rushed. … Nobody wants to see a school closed.”

The committee cited various factors in the six schools’ selection for consideration to be shuttered or overhauled. Selling points for keeping the Harrison building open, for example, are “being centrally located within the district, ability to accommodate relocated programs/operations, connectivity of high speed fiber and potential for collaborative uses with community and municipality.”

According to the district’s website, the district serves more than 10,000 students and has four high schools, two middle schools, two upper elementary schools, nine elementary schools, two early childhood centers, as well as special services — including a community site housing an alternative education and an English as a second language program.

The district also has Cloverdale School, which serves students with multiple or mental impairments ages three to 26, and Visions Unlimited, a post-high school special education program for students 19 to 26, according to the website.

The proposed changes discussed Tuesday follow others in Metro Detroit school districts.

In June, Southfield Board of Education approved the merger of the district’s two high schools, Southfield-Lathrup and Southfield High; the closing of Brace-Lederle K-8 School and Adler Elementary, and other changes.

Southfield also plans to freeze hiring, salaries, nonessential purchases and non-grant travel, place a preschool class in each K-5 school and launch an early college program with Oakland Community College.

The consolidations, which will take effect in 2016-17, was the result of falling enrollment and rising expenses.

mhicks@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2117