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11-12-18 Old Village School / Main Street Property Update

Community Celebrates Rebirth of Historic Old Village School
 
Our sincere appreciation goes out to the nearly two hundred community and school district leaders, staff, school families and community members who braved the chilly temperatures on Sunday, November 11, 2018, for our Ribbon-Cutting and Open House celebrating the rebirth of Old Village School, a symbol of historic distinction in the Northville community for more than a century. We were especially honored to be joined so many in our community who have been a part of the school’s and our community’s rich-history.
 
Originally opened in 1917 as our high school – known at the Union School at the time – the school building has served students of all ages, including as a home to our ground-breaking Special Education Center Program, along with Cooke School. Old Village was closed in 2012, as a result of significant facility infrastructure needs and the dire school funding crisis in Michigan. Now, five years later, and with the incredible support of our community and the passage of Bond 2017, the $10 million restoration of this truly significant historical building has become a reality.
 
As was demonstrated throughout the restoration of Old Village School, it truly “takes a village” to undertake a project of this magnitude in a matter that preserves the rich history of Old Village School, while also creating modern learning environments for our youngest learners, and supporting collaboration and efficiency in our Central Office.
 
Disposition of Main Street School / City of Northville Lawsuit Disappointing
 
It is with deep disappointment and great irony that we report that the City of Northville – on the heels of the renovation and reopening of the historic Old Village School – filed a law suit against Northville Public Schools on November 9, 2018 to block the demolition of Main Street School, adjacent to Old Village School, which previously housed the school district’s downtown Early Childhood program and Central Office Administration.
 
From day one, the district has been consistent in messaging that maintaining both the Old Village and Main Street facilities is cost prohibitive, not feasible or fiscally responsible. In addition, at the time, the feedback from the community, the Historic District Commission (HDC), and city leaders was overwhelming in favor of restoring Old Village School over the Main Street facility. In fact, the city’s own Master Plan, in noting the school district’s plan to sell one or both buildings, specifically references the desire to save at least the exterior of Old Village School and to restore rather than replace the building, while no such reference is made regarding Main Street School.
 
At issue is a dispute over state versus local jurisdiction in the matter of the disposing or conveying of school property and facilities. There is prevailing case law, and an attorney general opinion (A.G. Opinion No. 6957 September 30, 1997) that is summarized on the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office website (Attorney General’s Opinions Regarding Local Preservation) as follows:
 
“A LOCAL SCHOOL DISTRICT IS NOT REQUIRED TO OBTAIN A PERMIT UNDER THE LOCAL HISTORIC DISTRICTS ACT BEFORE COMMENCING WORK AFFECTING THE EXTERIOR APPEARANCE OF A SCHOOL BUILDING LOCATED WITHIN A LOCAL HISTORIC DISTRICT. THE STATE, THROUGH ENACTMENT OF THE SCHOOL BUILDING CONSTRUCTION ACT AND THE REVISED SCHOOL CODE, HAS EXEMPTED FROM LOCAL REGULATION THE CONSTRUCTION AND REMODELING OF SCHOOL BUILDINGS BY LOCAL SCHOOL DISTRICTS.”
 
The District maintains that this long-standing attorney general opinion is persuasive, and is based on the language of the Michigan Revised School Code, which provides that the superintendent of public education has sole and exclusive jurisdiction over the review and approval of plans and specifications for school buildings, as well as over site plans for the buildings. As part of the state superintendent’s “sole and exclusive authority” of site plans is the administration of the Construction of School Buildings Act of 1937 which delegates enforcement and administration control of this act and the State Construction Code to the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (“LARA”). “Construction” includes “demolition” under this statute. Pursuant to the Revised School Code, the Northville School District has the power to, (among other things) to acquire, construct, maintain, repair and renovate school property and facilities; and has the power to dispose of or convey school property and facilities.
 
It also is important to understand that the Board of Education has received overwhelming support from our school community and the neighbors of Main Street School for the planned redevelopment of the Main Street property with single-family homes while being in receipt of strong objections to repurposing the building into condominiums or apartments. Accordingly, in August 2018, the Board of Education approved a resolution to negotiate a purchase agreement with a developer for four single-family homes to be built on five lots, with the additional donation by the developer of a green space buffer between Old Village School and the property line for a pocket park on school district property. The decision reached by the Board – following months of study, a transparent decision-making process, and multiple opportunities for public input – represents a win-win outcome for the school district and the community, given the level of support by the community for single-family homes at the site, along with the overwhelming support for the renovation of the truly historic Old Village School.
 
At every turn, Northville Public Schools has been willing to work with City of Northville leaders and the Historic District Commission to find a timely resolution that will maintain the district’s standing as a public school system acting in the best interest of our community, educators and students now and into the future.
 
We are disheartened by the City of Northville’s decision to seek legal action against Northville Public Schools, after the school district, in good faith, worked to restore and repurpose Old Village School, while engaging in an exhaustive and transparent decision-making process to arrive at an outcome for the Main Street property that has been widely embraced by our community.