Consultant Suggests Facilities Master Plan – 2008

By Eric Czarnik, C&G Staff Writer – Birmingham-Bloomfield Eagle (MI) – May 28, 2008

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP – Bloomfield Hills Schools needs a 20-year master plan to chart out its school building strategies amid shrinking enrollment and changing educational patterns, according to a strategic planning firm’s report. Charlie Fleetham, president and top consultant at Farmington Hills-based Project Innovations Inc., said a facilities master plan would map out the current and future uses of the school district’s buildings while guiding the development of future capital bonds and taxes. He expounded on his analysis at a May 19 meeting at East Hills Middle School in Bloomfield Township.

According to Fleetham, a good facilities plan would make buildings suitable for flexible use while helping BHS develop a global, well-balanced curriculum.
A new master plan could refresh old district data that does not take recent enrollment or financial projections into account. It could also examine where the student population lives in the community and match it to where schools could be best consolidated, he said.

“Those kinds of things weren’t considered in 2003, and I think they need to be considered now,” he said.

He recommended that the district “cast a wide net” to locate a good planning firm, and he suggested that parents, students and citizens have a say in the process – perhaps through a Community Partnership Committee.

Building consensus The public debate over school buildings has been divisive at times. In May 2007, voters rejected a bond proposal to build and equip two brand-new high school buildings. One year later, Fleetham tried to make school activists work together while unleashing their unconscious creativity. He said he used a form of art therapy during the May 19 meeting by encouraging people to place pictures of district facilities on a large map.

“That energized their minds and then their emotions,” he said.

Fleetham also presented an option of building one new high school instead of keeping the Andover and Lahser high schools. The plan would build the new facility on the site of Conant Elementary School and Bloomfield Hills Middle School. However, Fleetham added that the idea was a “straw man” and not a firm recommendation.

“We’re not sure if that’s going to pass muster in a design assessment,” he said. “But we definitely think it’s an idea that the district needs to consider.”

One reason to build a new high school is the age of the district’s schools. Fleetham said the district’s “core” schools were built between 1955-1967, in contrast to districts like Birmingham and Novi that have new or remodeled high schools.

“For one of the wealthiest communities in Michigan, if not the nation, the high schools seem to be a bit run-down,” Fleetham’s report said. “Although we haven’t collected data on this assumption, we think efforts to increase student enrollment are hampered by the state of the district’s high schools.”

Many parents want to put the curriculum and small class sizes first – to the point of closing schools if necessary, Fleetham said.

But resident Pete Mehra of Bloomfield Township said in an email that he was disappointed with the Project Innovations facilities report. “It is little more than a proposal to build a new high school – a proposition that has been rejected by the voters in both votes and numerous surveys conducted by the BHS board,” he said.

Fleetham said a good facilities plan should ease the load on taxpayers by using millage renewals, sinking fund revenues and reserve funds to pay for new construction.
“Assuming that it doesn’t have to be done tomorrow, it gives the district some real options without raising taxes,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Eric Czarnik at eczarnik@candgnews.com or at (586) 498-1058.