Residents have spoken out against the plans for Roosevelt Elementary School.

Residents have spoken out against the plans for Roosevelt Elementary School.

File photo by Erin Sanchez

Keego City Council gets involved in Roosevelt issue

Court of Appeals ruling halts demo plans as community group lawsuit proceeds

By: Mark Vest | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published May 2, 2024


KEEGO HARBOR — Those who oppose the demolition of the Roosevelt Elementary School building in Keego Harbor have had some encouraging news come their way in recent weeks.

After having its attempt to secure a permanent injunction to protect Roosevelt from demolition denied by Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Phyllis McMillen, Heart of the Lakes Community Inc., a nonprofit that filed a lawsuit against the West Bloomfield School District in an attempt to stop demolition of the building, filed an emergency motion for stay, pending appeal.

On April 30, that motion was granted by the Court of Appeals.

The decision means that “any action in furtherance of the demolition of the Roosevelt School Building is stayed pending resolution of the appeal or further order of the Court,” according to wording from the Court of Appeals.

A press release following the decision states that the decision is a “significant victory in the ongoing effort to preserve this community treasure.”

“The ruling has come after months of persistent pleas from community residents for a palatable explanation from the West Bloomfield School District Board; urging the board to reconsider the demolition plans and asking, ‘If you are not repurposing, then why demolish, what is the hurry?” the release states.

Heart of the Lakes is being represented by the law firm Doerr MacWilliams Howard PLLC.

Sara MacWilliams is a partner with the firm.

“The Court of Appeals’ decision to extend the stay is a critical milestone in our fight to save historic Roosevelt,” MacWilliams stated in the release.

Derek Howard, another partner at the firm, stated that the community has called on the Board of Education to “listen to their plea to preserve our historical heritage.”

“This isn’t just a win for our group, it’s a victory for the entire community,” Howard stated in the release.

In a phone call with the Beacon, Howard stated that, according to court rules, the school district’s response is due on or before May 9.

“Once they file that response, the plaintiffs, our clients, have the option to file a reply brief. We have 21 days from the date of their filing,” Howard said. “Then starts … the part we don’t know. We don’t know how long the Court of Appeals will take to rule on the application.”

Timothy Mullins, who is an attorney representing the school district on behalf of Giarmarco, Mullins & Horton P.C., is still confident that the previous ruling by McMillen will stand.

“I think they’ll take a look at it and say, ‘Doesn’t look like there’s a significant question of law to take this out of the normal course of order,’ but that’s for them to decide,” Mullins said. “I doubt that it’s ever (going to) be reversed.”

Prior to the decision from the Court of Appeals, Keego Harbor City Council members also made a decision that pertains to Roosevelt.

In an effort to protect residents from any potential environmental damage that could result from demolition and abatement at Roosevelt, Keego Harbor City Council members voted unanimously April 18 to approve a resolution to retain an independent attorney.

“Our role, as I believe it, is to protect our city, our environment, our waterways and our people,” Keego Councilman John Fletcher said at the meeting. “I would make a resolution that we enter into a retaining agreement with the law firm of Rosati Schultz Joppich and Amtsbuechler in regards to the Roosevelt demolition matter.”

Residents who attended the meeting applauded the City Council’s decision.

Anthony Chubb, who is an attorney that represents Keego, spoke at the meeting.

He shared that there have been discussions with the Oakland County water resources commissioner and the department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, which is a state agency that “protects  Michigan’s environment, natural resources, and energy,” according to the state’s website.

“We have been speaking with EGLE and we’ve reached out to the WRC as well, especially as it relates to potential contamination arising from runoff from demolition and the abatement,” Chubb said. “The mayor … did send a very strongly worded letter to the school board demanding certain documents that would set forth exactly all the protections that they’re putting in place to ensure the residents and waterways are safe. They’ve provided no responsive documents to date.”

The City Council’s action is separate from that of Heart of the Lakes.

“For us in the council, we talked about environmental quality and risk to the community, so action is being taken,” Keego Mayor Rob Kalman said at the meeting.

Kalman also shared a synopsis of a letter that he sent to the West Bloomfield School District Board of Education.

“I basically stated that we, at least I do, feel that the interest of the community to retain the building for redevelopment has largely been ignored, and reiterated the desire for the sale and redevelopment of the existing school building, and since the demolition would directly impact all of us, I let them know I have tremendous concerns regarding the dangers the demolition poses to our city and the neighboring communities,” he said. “I wrote that the building, as we know, is 100 years-plus old and (has) large amounts of asbestos. It has to be abated … and it’s imperative that the process be followed to the highest of MIOSHA’s (Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration) safety standards.”

He said he wrote that the demolition process “will necessarily emit harmful, if not deadly, contaminants into the surrounding atmosphere and environment, and the release and emission of the contaminants, including asbestos … (and) other hazardous environmental pollutants poses a real threat to our community, and a particular concern was release of these pollutants into the Clinton River Watershed, which leads directly into Sylvan Lake.”

Council member Theresa Shimansky voiced her support for the action that was taken.

“I would be willing to listen to an attorney … regarding the environmental impact, if it comes to that, and if they cannot solve the environmental issues with the asbestos,” she said. “We really do have to protect our lakes and the Clinton River Watershed, so I am very much in favor of making sure that occurs.”

Although Keego Councilman Michael Karson does not believe that it is City Council’s place to have an official opinion on whether or not Roosevelt should be demolished, for him, taking a step to try to ensure that things proceed in a safe manner is another matter.

“We are here to make sure that the environment is safeguarded – air quality and the water quality,” Karson said. “We are here to make sure that Keego Harbor is safe. That’s our job.”

Although Fletcher expressed his support for the action that was taken, he cautioned against false hopes.

“This is not in any way going to stop them from the demolition,” he said. “The basis for hiring the outside counsel now is on environmental issues, to make sure that all of the asbestos is properly abated. We’re also going to discuss with them the lead abatement. … With the building being a 1920 building, any paint used prior to (the) mid-70s contains lead, so that is (going to) be part of our discussions with them as well.”

Multiple residents took advantage of the opportunity to speak during the public comments portion of the meeting.

“I’m in full support of this city going into independent litigation – whatever we have to do,” said Kevin Douglass, who is a member of Keego’s Planning Commission. “The gloves are off right now. … We have to protect the city and we have to protect these residents.”

Susan Emerling was pleased that Keego’s City Council took a proactive step.

“I’m happy to see that our City Council sees that our city has the standing to legally challenge the school board,” Emerling said. “I personally (want to) see our City Council enthusiastically fighting to save this historic building. … It’s time for strong action.”

Joel Yoder is another member of Keego’s Planning Commission who spoke during public comments.

He said that there is a trust issue with the West Bloomfield School District Board of Education and asked that Keego’s City Council demand a complete investigation of all the asbestos in the Roosevelt building and the proper remediation for it.

“Everyone on this council represents everyone in this room, and you are the voice for everyone in this room and all the other residents,” Yoder said. “If you think that you’re going to be able to work with the West Bloomfield school board, I think you have another think coming. … You are doing the right thing, and I applaud you for doing the right thing.”

Resident Marilyn Svaluto thanked the City Council for taking legal action to “make them respond to us.”

“We are … 2,700 people, as compared to 65,000 people in West Bloomfield, with 27 square miles of property,” she said. “So the only way we’ll ever get any respect at all is by following legal counsel. … So thank you so much for doing that, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll figure out that the best recourse is to leave Roosevelt and Keego Harbor alone.”

A third member of Keego’s Planning Commission, David Emerling, also made public comments.

“We got to, as a community, make them listen to us, and we appreciate you guys joining our fight,” he said. “It’s been a long battle, but we’re not giving up.”

Kalman said that the city is going to retain independent counsel.

“Where it goes from there, we’re (going to) see,” he said.