The Rochester City Council has decided not to pursue acquiring the former Rochester Community Schools administration building at 501 W. University.

The Rochester City Council has decided not to pursue acquiring the former Rochester Community Schools administration building at 501 W. University.

Photo by Mary Beth Almond

Rochester Council nixes idea of acquiring old RCS admin building

‘It would not be fiscally prudent’

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published April 24, 2024


ROCHESTER — The fate of the Rochester Community School District’s historical administration building at 501 W. University Drive remains in limbo after the Rochester City Council announced it has decided not to pursue acquiring the structure.

Rochester Mayor Stuart Bikson said the council initially asked the district if it would be interested in collaborating with the city as it explored ways to keep the structure. Bikson said the city was toying with turning the building into the city’s offices and a potential home for the nonprofits in the community.

Knowing it would take millions of dollars to renovate the building, the council was also exploring putting a millage on the ballot to raise money and give city voters a chance to weigh in.

But, he said, after “careful consideration,” the council has decided not to move forward.

“After careful analysis, the council unanimously came to the conclusion that it would not be fiscally prudent for the city to take on a project of this size and scope. This project will require the city to invest millions of dollars in the building and require a significant increase in property taxes to our citizens. The council looked at all alternatives to the site and did not conclude that it made sense for the taxpayers of Rochester,” Bikson announced during the April 8 council meeting.

A school building has been on the site since 1847, Rochester-Avon Historical Society President Tiffany Dziurman said, when a private academy was first built on the property. It was converted to a public school in 1857, burned down in a reported arson fire in 1888 and was eventually replaced with a new school in 1889 — first known as the Avon School District #5 Schoolhouse and eventually renamed the William S. Harrison School. In 1916, the first Rochester High School building was built at the corner of University Drive and Wilcox Street, and it was eventually connected to the Harrison School building via an addition in 1928. The 1889 Harrison School building was placed on the Michigan Register of Historic Places in 1987, although an official marker was never erected for the building. The district’s last major renovation of the structure was in 1988.

Knowing that the building is in dire need of updates, the school district hired architect Kingscott & Associates to complete an assessment of the structure in 2018, which identified issues with infrastructure, code and Americans with Disabilities Act compliance that would cost the district anywhere between $21.2 million and $29.1 million in renovations. Tearing it down and constructing a new facility would cost between $26.4 million and $31.4 million, according to the 2018 report.

The district ultimately opted to purchase the former Letica Corp. office and warehouse facility at 52585 Dequindre Road for $7 million to serve as its new administration building, leaving the old building vacant.

Although the city has decided not to acquire the building, Bikson said the “best outcome” for the city would still be to save the historic structure, adding that council would be willing to consider a conditional rezoning for the property, which would allow for a higher density residential component not allowed under the current R1 zoning classification.

“I am excited that we are asking them to make sure they are looking at adaptive use and innovative ways to save that building,” said Councilwoman Mariyln Trent. “I think it’s a big opportunity, instead of just tearing it down and putting in a subdivision.”

“Our goal with this rezoning would be to allow the saving of this historic building. There are groups of investors considering ideas for saving the building, and we hope RCS will work with these groups to achieve our common goal of saving the building,” added Bikson.

RCS Board of Education President Michelle Bueltel said the district “greatly appreciates” the city’s willingness to look at all options to acquire the former administration building.

“The RCS Board of Education plans to revisit discussions about the property in the near future,” Bueltel said in a statement.