1937 School Building Demo on Hold While Northville Ponders Appeal
(Lara Mossa, Jan. 14, 2019)
NORTHVILLE, MI – The fate of the vacant historic Main Street Elementary School is unclear as the city and the school district work out a legal dispute.
“The city was not necessarily trying to block the demolition,” said City Manager Patrick Sullivan. “We were trying to uphold our historic preservation ordinance and the process of going to the Historic District Commission before demolishing a building in the historic district.”
Built in 1937, the building is slated for demolition as Northville Schools works toward completing a multi-year project to move district operations into the newly-renovated Old Village School. Main Street, located three blocks west of the downtown, housed the district’s Board of Education offices, the Northville Educational Foundation and Early Childhood Program. The building has been vacant since October while a developer prepares the land for a new residential neighborhood.
Also in October, the city filed a lawsuit halting the plans, since the school district did not go through the Historic District Commission to tear down the facility. The district moved forward under the guise of a revised school code that states schools do not need local approval for anything having to do with building or planning and zoning, explained Sullivan. The city contends that under the State Historic Preservation Act, the school needs a permit from the Historic District Commission to demolish the building.
Judge David Allen of Wayne County Circuit Court ruled in favor of the school district on Jan. 9 but agreed to grant the city’s request to halt demolition for 21 days in order to give the city a chance to appeal. The City Council will have a closed session with legal counsel Monday night to discuss future plans.
“It’s just part of preserving historic buildings,” Sullivan said. “That’s one of the few tools we have to do that and the rule applies to everyone else who owns a building in that district.”
At the same time, Northville Schools celebrates the extensive renovation of Old Village School, which is adjacent to Main Street. Old Village School, built in 1916, had been vacant for five years due to poor building conditions. The cost and feasibility of redeveloping Old Village School outweighed the potential of renovating Main Street, said Mary K. Gallagher, Superintendent of Northville Schools.
“The façade and the whole look of that building is beautiful and had more history associated with it,” she said. While planning the redevelopment of the site, the city received several proposals for the property and the only ones to reuse Main Street involved renovating the existing structure into apartments and condos rather than single-family homes.
“There was an overwhelming response by the community not to put a high-density structure in that particular part of the city,” said Cyndy Jankowski, Northville Board of Education President, explaining that residents voiced concerns about the traffic and safety of the neighborhood during public meetings.
So instead, the board entered into negotiations with a developer to demolish Main Street and erect four single-family homes on the site as well as a small park. Now, those plans are on hold as the city makes its next move.
“I think the proposed use of the Main Street property is also something that’s been supported by our neighbors and a cross section of our community,” Gallagher said.
In the meantime, the district risks losing the developer and accrues the costs of maintaining the building as well as the possibility of vandalism.
“We’re certainly hopeful that this is the final outcome and that the city will not appeal,” Gallagher said. “We think it’s in the best interest of all the community to move forward.”