Farmington Public Schools trustees have directed Superintendent George Heitsch to continue negotiations with the City of Farmington Hills for the purchase of Harrison High School, but one thing seems certain.
The city’s offer of $1 for the property just won’t cut it.
Farmington Hills officials earlier this month presented concept plans for turning the first two floors of the 48-year-old building into a community center. The city envisioned the school district using the third floor.
That seemed the favored option during a January 16 Building & Sites subcommittee meeting. Heitsch presented a modified proposal for the use of several district properties that includes:
- completely vacating Harrison
- expanding Alameda Early Childhood Center to accommodate all pre-K students
- remodeling Farmington Community School for administrative services
- moving Farmington Central High to the former Highmeadow Common Campus
- selling all district-owned property on “the hill” – Schulman Administrative Center, Maxfield Education Center, and transportation facilities – for private development.
Heitsch said the modified proposal would save $6.2 million of the $131.5 million voters approved in 2015. Renovating Farmington Community School for Central Services would cost nearly $4 million less than moving to Harrison. Moving Transportation would cost an estimated $4.5 million, with $1 million coming from the general fund.
Trustee Terry Johnson, who chairs the Building and Site committee, expressed concern over the $1 sale price.
“I’m cautious about setting up precedents down the road,” he said. “I would like to see something put back into the general fund, something close to fair market value so that our students can directly benefit.”
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Officials don’t yet know what “fair market value” is. An appraisal of the building isn’t expected until mid-February. They were amenable to the city covering all or a portion of the third floor renovation costs and leasing space to the district for a token amount.
Trustee Terri Weems said she had no interest in spending general fund dollars on leasing space. She wondered whether the district could cover third floor renovation costs if the city owned the property.
Heitsch said that would require a long-term lease agreement or a condo arrangement, with the district owning only the third floor. It may be possible, he said, for the district to use bond dollars for those renovations.
“Either way, the money needs to be spent,” Johnson said. “The question becomes are we going to spend it or are they going to spend it?”
Cummings said she needed more information to make a decision. “I think it makes sense to enter into more robust negotiations with the city.”
“And the city may make the decision for us,” Heitsch said.
Parent Kelly Goldberg, who commented following the board discussion, urged officials to learn the value of the building before moving forward.
“The thing that strikes me that would greatly reassure our Farmington Schools families, staff, and stakeholders is the lack of a current appraisal,” she said. “I would ask you to push for that appraisal and not make any permanent decisions until you have that.”