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 City staff ceremoniously breaks ground for the new Farmington Hills Community Center, formerly Harrison High School, Sept. 23.

City staff ceremoniously breaks ground for the new Farmington Hills Community Center, formerly Harrison High School, Sept. 23.

Photo by Jeremy Whiting

Harrison High School starts new chapter as community center

By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published October 1, 2019

FARMINGTON HILLS — The former Harrison High School building has begun a new chapter as city staff members ceremoniously broke ground for a new recreation center at the site Sept. 23.

The recreation center is slated to open next fall.

The city bought the building from Farmington Public Schools for $500,000 in May 2018. The entire project is estimated to cost $22.5 million, for which the city took out a municipal bond. The city has also taken out municipal bonds for its golf club and its ice arena in the past.

Mayor Ken Massey said that by repurposing the high school, which served the community for 49 years, the city is “going to give it another life.”

“We had several problems we were confronting — three, to be exact — with the closing of the high school. One, our activities center was too small. We have outgrown it, and (we) need a bigger space. Two, we want to protect the taxpayer asset. Three, we wanted to protect the (school’s) legacy. By doing this, we can address all three of those issues,” he said.

The building will host activities seven days a week all year long from early morning until around 11 p.m.-midnight, depending on programming.


‘The name isn’t from the mascot’
The new city recreation center will be known as “The Hawk.”

Bryan Farmer, the deputy director of special services for Farmington Hills, said the city looked at the name from a marketing standpoint. The city performed market and brand analysis, spoke with community members at open forums, and generated more than a handful of options; all of that “kept coming back to The Hawk,” he said.

While the name helps preserve the legacy of the high school, contrary to what many might think, it wasn’t solely chosen because of the high school’s mascot.

“We thought if we don’t give it a name, it’s always going to be referred to as Harrison. If we call it the Farmington Hills Community Center, that creates confusion, because we have the Costick (Activities Center) and the John Grant Community Center,” he said. “We didn’t say, ‘Let’s call it The Hawk because of Harrison.’ Obviously, it ties in well, but it was really just trying to find the right name, and that seemed the most fitting.”


‘There’s three major components’
Ellen Schnackel, the director of special services for Farmington Hills,  said the building will have three major components: athletic and fitness areas, an aquatic center, and a performing arts space.

The gymnasium’s wood floors and bleachers will stay intact, but the city will have to give the locker rooms a major facelift and install air conditioning. The city will also be building a new fitness center.

The aquatic center will sustain the largest renovations by the time the project is over. Schnackel said the city plans to transform the space into a destination for families, with the additions of a lazy river, waterslides, basketball hoops and volleyball nets, and possibly a zipline. There will be designated spaces for lap swimmers.

The performing arts areas will see the addition of a second dance studio, as well as art classrooms and a makerspace. The theater will be rehabilitated, with attention to lighting, sound equipment, curtains and more.

On the third floor, Massey has proposed and challenged the city’s Economic Development Department to consider designating space to create a business incubator that would “assist the community’s entrepreneurs in getting businesses started.”

Massey believes there’s enough of a demand for that type of space to invest in it, and the department is working on a feasibility study to measure community interest.


‘Bursting at the seams’
For the last 15-20 years, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department programming has been limited by space constraints. The addition of The Hawk, a 245,000-square-foot building and approximately 40-acre facility, will allow the city to expand its programming, designate space for certain activities and even introduce new programs.

“We’ve run out of space here (at the Costick Center). We can’t add any more programs,” Farmer said. “To now have this true community center of this size, we can bring in a lot more excitement. … We’ll be able to utilize those spaces more appropriately, versus just finding a spot to put everybody. This opens up a lot more opportunity.”

As most of the programming and office space will transition into The Hawk, that will leave the Costick Center to be repurposed and more narrowly focused on catering to the Adults 50 and Better programming the city provides.

Schnackel said the extra space and time provided will allow the city to diversify programming for the city’s older residents — a growing population whose interests vary depending on age.

The younger, 50-somethings may be looking for more active programming, while the older end of the spectrum may be looking for more sedentary programming, like bingo. Schnackel said she’s hoping to expand and invest back into all of those areas for the city’s seniors.

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