Ferndale Reviews $7.5 Million in Building Needs, Creating Task Force to Prioritize

Ferndale Reviews $7.5 Million in Building Needs, Creating Task Force to Prioritize

(Crystal A. Proxmire, Dec. 5, 2021)

Ferndale, MI- Each day Justin Jameson visits the Kulick Community Center, not once but twice, to relieve the water pressure in the boiler-based heating system.  It is a monster of a system, with an industrial sized boiler and a network of pipes running beneath the floors and the carpets throughout the building leading to a dozen different rooms, each with its own unit.

Jameson talked about Kulick and four other city-owned buildings which were reviewed for the The Facilities Condition Assessment presented at the Dec. 2, 2021 city council meeting. Officials listened about the challenges in the buildings as well as the cost to fix them.  And they discussed the creation of a Citizens Task Force to dive into the data, access priorities, and make budgeting recommendations.

There’s an estimated 7.5 million in capital needs within the next five years.

As the Facilities Manager, Jameson is working on a more comprehensive approach to maintenance, with ongoing tracking of building needs and a centralized point of accountability rather than just having department heads dealing with problems as they arise.  A program called Asset Calc helps track building repairs, needs, and projected project costs which change as conditions to.  The big picture view and the ability to adjust costs and variables mean the city is able to make strategic, well-informed choices.

In the past the city fixed things as needed, and put off making preventative repairs and replacing deteriorating components due to financial choices.  In 2008-2009 the community was faced with a recession, and in its wake decisions were made that meant problems with buildings were pushed down the road.  And now the city has come to that point in the road where those deferred costs are now part of the problems – like those pipes and those heating units.

In Kulick the steam pipes are beneath the floors. So when they break, the floors and carpet need to be ripped up as well.  Units in each room need frequent checking, and when they break it can be a difficult hunt finding replacement parts.  Some have been so elusive that custom-building a replacement was the only option.

“It requires a lot of time and effort,” Jameson said.

The building, over 100 years old, is currently closed to the public due to facilities issues including the need for a new roof and damage from flooding.  The Ferndale Seniors are meeting at the Hazel Park Community Center and recreation staff are working remotely from home.

Replacing the boiler with a more modern equivalent would cost an estimated $808,780.  A new roof is also needed, listed at $3,082,562. The electrical system is also past it’s life expectancy.  Overall the building has a rating of 29%, meaning it’s in critical condition.


Also in critical condition is Fire Station 2 on Hilton, scoring 29%.  The small station doesn’t provide much room for the first responders who work in 24 hour shifts, and any remodeling to the upstairs comes with additional charges and challenges due to asbestos. Employees rely on 70 year old radiators and a furnace that is both impractically placed and lacking in the proper air flow.

Fire Station One, on Livernois, has a rating of poor at 22%.  There the furnace is in the television room and the radiators that were installed in 1956 are at the end of life. Administration offices are in this building, with the Fire Chief and Fire Marshall sweating at their desks because the window air conditioning units can’t do better than 80 degrees on particularly hot days.  A new furnace and HVAC and some reconfiguration would cost an estimated $729,500.

When the building was designed there was no thought given to the possibility that women might join in the fight to protect property and save lives.  As female firefighters were hired space for them was carved out of an old shower area, giving them a tiny restroom with no electrical outlets for charging phones or personal care items. The city now has its first female fire chief and a growing roster of women, and discussions centered around how to create an equitable space.


In 2008 the City had been spent a quarter of a million dollars on a plan for a new municipal complex, but the Mayor at the time, Craig Covey, led opposition to the plan and with a 2-3 vote the project did not get built.  The subsequent Mayor, Dave Coulter, was able to get a compromise passed in 2010 to make improvements and reconfigure City Hall.

“In the lean years after the 2008 recession, people didn’t understand that deferred maintenance leads to higher costs,” Jameson said. In 2014 the 43rd District Court across the street got remodeled and added on to thanks to saving a portion of each traffic ticket towards the task, and money also went to improvements at the police station.  However much of the work was trying to fit new needs into a small space.

In the police station, the pipes are corroded and waste water from flushing toilets and restroom sinks leaks into various parts of the building including the basement workout room. That’s one of the reasons the police station was given a 26% poor rating in the assessment. The building has also been settling, and there is damage to the limestone columns.  The HVAC system is supplemented by added on wall units and the capacity for electricity is a problem.

One immediate problem for the Ferndale Police is that they’re trying to implement a new radio communications system and the building does not have the electrical capacity for it.

Plumbing problems would cost $15,000 for a study and an estimated $368,000 to modernize the system including replacing the old steel pipes with PVC.  The electrical work needs about $2.7 million.


City Hall has a score of 26% which is poor.  Jameson said the HVAC and sanitary systems are outdated and the electrical system is near capacity.  The building has an elevator that is tiny and not used, with an ADA compliant ramp having been added in what used to be part of an office.  While the lift is an improvement over the elevator it continues to be in an awkward place and it’s expected to reach the end of its useful life within 3-5 years.  It’s difficult to work on because “it’s custom built in a confined location.”

Challenges with City Hall include that “It’s difficult to expand city hall due to the configuration of the building, the size of the property, and the types of materials,” Jameson said.

Mayor Melanie Piana also weighed in, saying the space is inadequate.  “People are packed in there like sardines,” she said, “People are sharing offices.”


In the administration building of the Department of Public Works, one interesting feature is a manhole cover in the floor of the office.  Below the property, pipes are considered to be “a maze.”

The work buildings are inefficient as there are large doors and vehicles moving in and out all day, and there is a salt barn that was built in the 1980s that is bulging at the sides and failing to keep salt dry due to leaks.  The barn would cost $484,000 to replace.

According to the report an initial investment of $46,936 in making the buildings more energy efficient would result in an annual savings of $7,079 in energy costs. And it would help bring the score up from poor at 24%.


“This is the beginning of a series of long and difficult discussion for the community,” Mayor Piana said.

The challenge, of course, is financial.  With $7.5 million in capital needs over the next five years, priorities will need to be made.  Projects must also align with the City’s environmental goals. That’s why the City is creating a Citizen Led Task Force to review the information and come up with a plan for City Council to approve. Details of the task force will come before council for a vote, but it’s likely there will be an application process with 5-7 people appointed by the Mayor.  As those details emerge and applications open, Oakland County Times will provide an update for those interested in serving.

The goal is to have the task force formed by Jan. 2022 and for a completed plan to be approved within the year.

Check out the full Dec. 2 meeting:

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