Farmington Schools trustees examine options for post-Harrison world

Farmington Public Schools trustees will likely decide within the next six weeks whether to continue using part of Harrison High School or hand over the entire building to the City of Farmington Hills after it closes in 2019.


Jon Aldred for Farmington Hills City Council

The cities of Farmington Hills and Farmington have a vested interest in the fate of the nearly 50-year-old building. Hills officials want to turn it into a state-of-the-art community center, while Farmington officials hope the district will use the third floor and sell the current FPS administrative campus at Shiawassee and Raphael to a housing developer.

School officials looked at four scenarios during a Tuesday workshop:

Harrison proposal
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The “Bond Oversight” option comes from the committee overseeing implementation of $131.5 million in bonds approved by voters in 2015. In addition to vacating Harrison, the plan includes demolition and sale of Highmeadow Common Campus. Highmeadow students moved this year to the Farmington STEAM Academy on 12 Mile Road.

“Our responsibility in this is to represent taxpayers … 60 percent of which don’t have kids in the schools,” said committee member Fritz Beiermeister.

Under this plan, the district would issue $15 million less in bonds and save about $840,000 in annual operating costs.

The “Good Neighbor” recommendation, Superintendent George Heitsch said, takes into account the aims of Farmington and Farmington Hills officials. It would result in a $2.3 million bond savings, and $800,000 in saved operating costs.

Leasing Harrison’s third floor requires $7.7 million in renovations, but would put the administrative campus at Shiawassee and Raphael in Farmington on the open market. The plan also calls for $7 million to centralize early childhood education at Alameda Early Childhood Center, and $4.5 million to relocate the bus garage.

The Highmeadow property would be sold, as would Farmington Community School on Shiawassee and Tuck Road, with Farmington Central High School moved to the Harrison building along with administrative and adult education.

Best for System, Best for Students

The final two options – “Best for System” and “Best for Students” – contain similar elements. Both recommend keeping the Schulman Administrative Center open, with a $5.5 million renovation to house services currently in the Maxfield Education Center (MEC) on 10 Mile Road.

The district bus garage would remain in place. The MEC, adjacent to a newly proposed housing development, would be sold.

Both proposals would keep the Highmeadow building in reserve, with the “Best for System” plan moving Farmington Central High School there.

The proposals differ most in plans for Farmington Community School; “Best for Students” would keep it open, with $3.8 million of improvements for Farmington Central and space for the district’s robotics and other STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) activities.

“Best for System” would result in $3.75 million less in bonds issued and $860,000 in annual savings, while “Best for Students” would require an investment of $50,000 above what voters approved and save about $760,000 annually.

‘Part of a larger community’

“This is a lot to digest,” board vice president Terri Weems said. “I clearly want to do what’s best for the system and what’s best for students. I also want to make sure that whatever we do makes sense as stewards of the dollars.”

Board president David Turner said officials have a “fiduciary duty” to not exceed the voter-approved bond capacity. He was also uncomfortable with the $5.5 million tab for the Schulman Administrative Center renovations.

“Somewhere between best for system and best for students is where I would be comfortable arriving,” he said.

Trustee Jim Stark felt that while officials have to do what’s best for students, “we have to remember we are all part of a larger community.”

“We’re looking to do something for 20 or 30 years here… the foreseeable future and beyond,” he said. “We need to look at it in that context as well.”

“My concern is for the students and what’s best for the students,” trustee Angie Smith said, adding Farmington Central students need a lunchroom and a gym. “Let’s do something for those students also.”

Trustee Terry Johnson, who chairs the board’s Building and Site subcommittee, said once officials figure out whether they want to lease Harrison’s third floor, “the rest will fall into place.” In order to issue bonds and start the bidding process for summer construction, officials should make that decision by mid-February, bond counsel Amanda Van Dusen of Miller Canfield said.

Officials are expected to discuss their options again at a Tuesday, January 16 meeting.

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Correction: The date for the board’s next meeting was incorrect in the original version of this post. 

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