Northville sues to stop schoolhouse demolition
The battle to save a historic Northville schoolhouse from the wrecking ball is headed to court.
A lawsuit was filed Friday in Wayne County Circuit Court asking for an injunction against plans to demolish the former Main Street School.
The City of Northville filed the suit against the Northville Public Schools, superintendent and the board of education to force the district into discussions with the Northville Historic Commission about the fate of the school, at 501 W. Main St. in the city's Historic District.
At issue is whether the school board or state law has control regarding historic buildings and districts takes precedence.
In its seven-page legal complaint, the city argues that Michigan law requires "any person, individual, partnership, firm cooperation, institution, or agency of government to obtain a permit, certificate of appropriateness, and/or a notice to proceed from a local historic district commission before any work affecting the exterior appearance of a resource is performed within a historic district, including, but not limited (to) the demolition of a historic (building)."
The Northville school district is hoping to sell the property for $1.3 million.
"This is money that would go into the District’s general fund — money that has been budgeted for the benefit of our school children," said Northville Schools Superintendent Mary Kay Gallagher in a statement on the district's website. "Litigation may result in the termination of the pending sale and proposed low density construction of 4 new homes on 5 lots and the loss of our use of those funds."
Gallagher said a court battle could end up costing $300,000 and that "forcing the District to retain this property will cause undue financial hardship to the District."
Gallagher cited state law in a letter to parents and Northville citizens: "The superintendent of public education has sole and exclusive jurisdiction over the review and approval of plans and specifications for the construction, reconstruction, or remodeling of school buildings used for instructional or noninstructional school purposes and … of site plans for those school buildings. This applies to demolition site plans. Construction includes demolition."
Northville City Manager Pat Sullivan said Friday the city "is not taking sides" in the matter and just wants the school district to defer to the city's Historic Commission about the proposed demolition of the Main Street School, which was designed by famed Michigan architect Maynard Lyndon.
The school, built in 1937, according to city documents, is considered to be among the most modern mid-century classroom buildings in the country.
Sullivan said the city is continuing discussions with Northville schools and is hoping for a resolution in hopes of avoiding a lengthy court battle which could get costly for the City of Northville and its school district.
"We would like to avoid a protracted legal battle," Sullivan said.
Sullivan said the city wants to follow "the same process with all buildings in the historic district."
He said that while school districts are subject to different state laws regarding site and planning issues, he believes historic designation and handling of historic buildings should fall under the state's Historic Preservation Act.
"It's in a historic district," said Sullivan. "It should come under state law."