Growth, TEA contract, bond, transit center mark 2013

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published January 4, 2014

 Each tulip bed planted at White Chapel Memorial Park Cemetery is labeled with the specific type of flower blooming when the cemetery planted approximately 36,000 bulbs to herald spring in May.

Each tulip bed planted at White Chapel Memorial Park Cemetery is labeled with the specific type of flower blooming when the cemetery planted approximately 36,000 bulbs to herald spring in May.

File photo by Patricia O’Blenes

In 2013, the transit center hit another roadblock, teachers and school district officials were unable to agree on a labor contract, voters passed a school bond issue and a recalled mayor ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the City Council.

Here’s a look back at what made headlines last year.

Transit trouble
On May 2, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that the city of Troy does not hold title to the land the Troy transit center is being built on because the center was not funded as of June 2, 2010. On June 14, 2013, the appeals court denied developer Grand/Sakwa Properties’ request for immediate effect of the ruling, which would have stopped construction of the center in its tracks.

The court also denied the city’s request for reconsideration of the May 2 ruling.

Developer Grand/Sakwa Properties donated 2.7 acres of the total 77-acre mixed-use commercial and residential property at Maple and Coolidge to the city of Troy on the condition that Troy would develop the land for use as a transportation center. The consent agreement required that the city fund the center within 10 years of the date of judgment, which the Appeals Court ruled never happened.

City Engineer Steve Vandette said major construction on the transit center was finished at the end of October. The City Attorney’s Office is finalizing the lease agreement with Amtrak, which will come to the council for approval in coming weeks. Vandette said the transit center will open after the lease with Amtrak is approved and Amtrak sets a date.

The federally funded transit center will feature a 2,000-square-foot-building with a waiting area and public restrooms, an elevator, a 90-foot pedestrian bridge from the building to the tracks, a crash wall, enhancements to the Amtrak platform, slips for taxis and buses, and designated parking on the Troy side.

Also this year, the council moved a $6.62 million cap it had imposed on the cost for the center to $8.3 million in November and voted to offer Grand Sakwa $550,000 for the land, which City Attorney Lori Grigg Bluhm said Grand Sakwa had not responded to and was presumed rejected. The city initiated actions to file eminent domain proceedings in Oakland County Circuit Court, to take the property without consent of Grand Sakwa, in the interest of the public for the transit center, which a jury would decide.

Teacher contract battle
The labor contract for the Troy Education Association, the group that represents teachers in the Troy School District, expired June 30. Troy School District and union officials have worked toward an agreement since March, and they have worked with a state-appointed mediator since the end of May.

The sticking point remains the step pay increases for teachers with less than 10 years seniority, which TEA President Tony Lucchi said affects 600 of the 769 teachers in the district.

In 2011, the TEA agreed to concessions that included an 11 percent contribution for health care and a freeze on step increase raises, which saved the district more than $10 million over two years.

Jasen Witt, assistant superintendent of human resources for the Troy School District, said the district has presented four different options to the TEA. One proposal would provide teachers who are on steps 1-10 with a total of $7,300 in new bonuses over two years, $4,500 the first year and $2,800 the second year. Also, all teachers, including those not on the steps, would receive $1,000 in bonuses in 2013-14 and $1,100 for 2014-15.

Another option would provide step increases to teachers who receive passing performance evaluations if the Troy School District fund balance is $21 million or greater after the 2013-14 audit. Another proposal would slate 42 percent of any increase in the state per-pupil allowance to the TEA, after district payroll tax costs for Social Security, Medicare and retirement costs are subtracted. 

All four options are listed on the school district website, 

Lucchi described the bonuses offered to the teachers under the current proposals as “arbitrary” based on evaluations, and said district officials could manipulate “how much and when.” 

The TEA has filed for fact-finding, which could take between six months to a year; however, district officials and the TEA are free to negotiate during that process. The TEA has asked for delay in the hearings, which will likely not begin until February. 

Bond work
Voters approved the Troy School District school improvement bond proposition 9,380 votes to 4,002.

The Facilities Study Team, comprising volunteers who evaluated all buildings in the district in early 2012, suggested the improvements.

The bond will raise $125 million in a series of bond sales over the maximum of 15 years. The estimated millage for the first year is 4.7 mills, which is projected to go down in subsequent years.

The bond will fund projects including security modifications at all buildings, reconfiguration to accommodate smoother traffic flows, expansion of the gym at Smith Middle School, acoustical improvements to music classrooms at Troy High School, upgrades to restrooms at Athens High School and converting a pool at the International Academy-East into instructional space, as well as paying for new buses.

Enhancements to security would involve replacement of exterior doors on buildings throughout the district — in some cases expanding the vestibules, buzzer systems and remodeling the front office areas.

Technology will be updated, including servers and computers, and the heating and air conditioning system systems will be replaced or improved. 

Development deals
Development in the city continued on an upward trend, most notably along Big Beaver. Also, MJR announced plans to build a $4.5 million theater complex on the site of the old Kmart store at Maple and Livernois.

Through the end of November, the city issued 9,364 building permits, compared with 8,667 permit issued in 2012.

The Kilmer Plaza, on Big Beaver and Rochester, was completed. The development includes an outdoor fountain and artwork, and tenants include Scotttrade, DiBella’s Subs, Sy Thai restaurant, Tim Horton’s Café & Bake Shop, a Sleep Number store and Massage Green Wellness Center. The development will also include 16 residential units.

Farther west on Big Beaver, just west of I-75, plans were approved for the Galleria of Troy, which includes a central plaza with outdoor art feature on the site, a retail center in the middle and a Bonefish Grill, which plans to open this month, as well as Carrabbas Italian Grill restaurant. The second phase of the development will include a hotel or hotels behind the restaurants and retail center.

Plans were also approved for a $6 million Big Beaver Center, on the north side of Big Beaver, between Alpine and McClure, which features 24,000 square feet of retail space in a one-story building, a 3,500-square-foot Flagstar Bank and 16 single-family residential homes. Tenants include AT&T, Jimmy John’s, Piada Italian Street, Epic Nails and Destination XL.

Children’s Hospital of Michigan plans to invest $42 million to build a 70,000-square foot outpatient specialty facility on Big Beaver, between the Detroit Marriott Troy hotel and Troy City Hall, on the east side of Civic Center Drive. The DMC purchased four acres, and construction is expected to begin on the center this spring and take about two years to complete. According to hospital officials, the center will house outpatient pediatric services, including cardiology, endocrinology, gastroenterology, nephrology, neurology, oncology and surgery, and state-of-the-art imaging services. The center will also have a pediatric emergency room and will create approximately 100 new full-time jobs. No plans have been received by the city for the facility to date.

South of Big Beaver, the Holiday Inn Express & Suites opened this past May on Stephenson. In front of Oakland Mall, on 14 Mile, the city approved plans for a new development for a Qdoba Mexican grill and a drive-thru Starbucks.

Council changes
Janice Daniels, who was recalled from mayoral office in November 2012, lost her bid for a seat on the Troy City Council this past November.

Ed Pennington, who was appointed to fill the council seat vacated by Dane Slater when he was appointed mayor to fill Daniels’ seat, and Mayor Pro Tem Wade Fleming retained their seats. Newcomer Ellen Hodorek was elected to fill the seat vacated by Council member Maureen McGinnis. McGinnis decided not to run for a second term on the council in order to run for judge of the 52-4 District Court when Judge William Bolle retires in 2014 due to age limits.

Pennington was the top vote- getter, garnering 8,286 votes. Hodorek received 8,146 votes, and Fleming received 7,419 votes. They will serve four-year terms.

Daniels received 4,558 votes.

Nine candidates were running for three seats on the council.

In May, Slater was elected mayor after Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Denise Langford Morris ruled that the office of mayor had to be decided by a vote of the people. The council had initially appointed Slater as mayor following Daniels’ recall until the general election in November of this past year.