Ferndale Schools Seeking Permission from Neighbors for Park Land Purchase
(Cheryl Weiss, March 8, 2021)
Oak Park, MI – Ferndale Public Schools plans to build a new 90,000 square foot Ferndale Lower Elementary School on the land that currently consists of CASA (Center for Advanced Studies and the Arts) and Jackson Park.
This multi-step process began last year when 80% of voters approved the Bond plan, raising the $25,000,000 the school district needs to move forward. Following that, the Ferndale School District entered into a purchase agreement with the City of Oak Park to obtain the area of Jackson Park. By including that park area, the District will have eleven acres on which to build instead of just the seven acres they currently own.
However, it is not as simple as the City of Oak Park just selling them the property.
The Jackson Park area which the City of Oak Park currently owns has a deed restriction on it, which prevents the construction of anything on that land except a park or single-family homes. Schools do not qualify. In order to build a school on the land, a vote by land owners in that plat or subdivision of 1,200 homes, is needed to lift that restriction. A majority of YES votes will allow the school district to move forward. Voting is currently in process; homeowners have received a ballot and are asked to return it as soon as possible. If 601 YES votes are received, the school district will purchase the Jackson Park area property and architects can begin designing the school. Construction is planned for Spring 2022 and the school will open in Fall 2023.
What happens if a majority of votes are NO votes? The school will still be built, but they will be limited to the seven acres they own.
At a recent meeting of the East Oak Park Neighborhood Association meeting, Ferndale Schools Superintendent Dania Bazzi along with James Stottlemyer, Custodial and Maintenance Services, and Bill Good, Communications and Pupil Services for Ferndale Schools explained that if they have less land to work with, that limits their opportunity to optimize their plans. They may have to build a two-story building instead of a one-story building, which would make it more challenging to be ADA compliant. It would also add challenges to construct the most efficient drop off and pick up loops, parking lots, and walking paths.
In addition, a two-story building would impact the view residents have now. Residents across from Jackson Park have shared on social media that they enjoy looking out their front window to watch the sunset. If a two-story building is constructed, that view would be obstructed.
An anonymous flier is being distributed to encourage residents to vote no.
Points on the flier list concerns. “Ferndale Schools has REFUSED to provide detailed plans if deed restriction lifted,” it said.
But Ferndale Schools administration says this isn’t because they are hiding, it’s because the plans haven’t been made yet. Determining the lot size comes before the work of making detailed plans.
According to Bazzi, the architects, GMB Architecture + Engineering, need to know if they have eleven or seven acres to work with before designing the plans. The size of the property will determine the shape of the school, the location of key features, and what features they can include. In addition, it is more cost effective to have one architectural design created than to have two. Once the votes are in, the architects will work on the design.
Another issue is the mature oak trees on the Jackson Park property. The opposition group wants them to be saved. According to Bazzi, they plan to save as many as possible. With 100 year old trees, as these are, the roots extend far, and they may be damaged in construction. However, many of the oak trees are within 50 feet of the residential property line, where they cannot build, and the trees would remain, and the main portion of the parkland is simply grass and dirt.
The flyer raises concerns about losing green space and the softball field. The district says they plan to incorporate green space into the site plan. Those who are interested in softball might enjoy visiting the diamond at nearby Best Park.
A question was raised about counting the votes: if they would be counted privately by school officials or if it would be done publicly. Bazzi said she is willing to have the ballots counted in public and then all ballots would be turned in to Oakland County. The district is following the process required by the deed and following the advice of their attorneys.
If the vote passes, and they receive at least 601 YES votes, the process will have students attending CASA move to the current Ferndale Lower Elementary School on Pinecrest. The current Lower Elementary School is too small for the number of children they serve, but it is perfect for the approximately 200 students who attend CASA for half days. The current CASA building will be demolished, and a new 90,000 square foot state-of-the-art elementary school will be built to house all kindergarten through grade two students in the Ferndale School District.
Among those in support is State Representative Regina Weiss, who lives in the area by Jackson Park. “I already sent in my YES vote!” Weiss said.
Some neighbors shared that the open area is currently being used as an unofficial dog park. Dogs are let off leash to run, often approaching people and leashed dogs. The City of Oak Park is in the planning process of building a dog park, according to Mayor Marian McClellan. Within the next couple years, dogs and their humans in the area will have a proper, official, and safe place to play and run, though ideas are still being worked through.
As far as this project to build a new school, “The City of Oak Park is 100% behind this,” Mayor McClellan said.
Bazzi hopes the community will come together to support the request. “I am committed to seeing these projects through and giving the students the best place to learn. We have really built a district people can be proud of,” Bazzi said.
Those in the area received ballots that need to be sent back in by the end of April.
For more information, including the full meeting, please go to Deed – Ferndale Public Schools (ferndaleschools.org)