Turning Shuttered School Sites Into New Homes

Forced to close schools due to shrinking enrollment, a Detroit suburb is selling its surplus schools to housing developers in hopes that children from new families will prop up remaining schools in the community.

"The Royal Oak district is in the process of selling off six elementary schools to developers who are paying cash for the properties and have plans to build big homes on them...Such a plan seems to be unique, as districts elsewhere in Michigan and the Midwest struggle to match facilities to fluctuating student populations."

"The benefits of the plan to the Royal Oak district are two-fold: The developers pay cash for the property, providing funds to renovate still-open schools; and homes designed to accommodate families with school-aged children will be built. Superintendent Thomas Moline reasons that building these larger homes in Royal Oak will attract new residents, increase the tax rolls and ultimately slow the rate of decline of enrollment."

"Having six or seven kids in a bungalow in Royal Oak, those days are gone," he says.

But some neighbors and others oppose the districts plans to bring the new large homes.

"Joe Novitsky, the owner and principal architect of JSN Architects in Bingham Farms, proposed an adaptive reuse for both schools as assisted living facilities with a purchase price of $1.3 million for the Longfellow site and $840,000 for Starr."

"They would be for seniors from the same neighborhoods and keep them just blocks away from their homes instead of miles away from their homes and free up their existing housing for new families," Novitsky says.

"His plan also calls for a first-right-of-refusal for the district to buy back the schools in 15 years, as Novitsky, also a city commissioner in Berkley, believes the school-age population will grow in Royal Oak during that time. He says the district's plan to eliminate school buildings and their grounds "offends" him.

"We lose not only the schools, we lose the park lands. We lose the open space that belongs to the city. That's where my kids learned to fly kites, learned to play ball, ride their bikes, ultimately steer a car for the first time in the parking lots. These are really important places. To lose those would drive me crazy," he says."

Full Story: From school bells to doorbells

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