Madison district plans next phase of consolidated campus

District seeks to relocate Wilkinson and redevelop Halfman into housing

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published May 7, 2015


MADISON HEIGHTS — Earlier this year, the all-new Madison Elementary opened its doors, marking the end of Phase I of the Madison school district’s vision of “One Campus — One Community.” The goal is to consolidate the elementary school, middle school and high school at a single campus in the area of 11 Mile and Hales.

Madison Elementary, which combines the students and staff of Halfman and Edison elementaries, is already there in the renovated and expanded Schoenhals building. Nearby is the pre-existing Madison High. But Wilkinson Middle School remains on John R, south of 11 Mile.

If voters approve Phase II, the middle school would be relocated to a new building that would be constructed on the north side of the high school. Currently, there is just empty space. The ball field will be moved slightly to accommodate it.

The new building would feature improved security, including a special entrance vestibule and video surveillance, as well as a large gymnasium, technology and resource spaces, new furniture and equipment, an added driveway connection behind the school, lighting upgrades and more.

By having the elementary school, middle school and high school in close proximity, students at each school would have access to more resources. For example, middle school students could conduct science experiments in the outdoor classroom at Madison Elementary or use the swimming pool at Madison High.

The campus would also include an improved athletic and fitness center that would be open to the community at large, providing an affordable way for residents of all ages to stay healthy.

The project would take an estimated five years to complete. It would be backed by a $16.7 million bond, paid back over a maximum 25-year period at a rate of 5.23 mills. If voters approve it this August, a $60,000 home with a taxable value of $30,000 would see a tax increase of about $13 a month, or $157 a year.

But the district’s ambitions don’t end with the campus. There is also the question of what to do with the previous school properties, including Halfman Elementary. At press time, the district and the city had different views of what to do.

Redeveloping Halfman
When it comes to Halfman Elementary, the district wants to redevelop the land into new housing mixed with green space. School officials say this would bring in an extra $60,000 a year in tax revenue and an estimated $10-$15 million in new economic development over the next decade. They say it would help inject new life into the south end of town, which they feel is neglected. However, the city has been hesitant to support their plan.

Halfman Elementary is located on Couzens, north of 10 Mile and I-696 and west of Dequindre.   Since the elementary school students moved to Madison Elementary, Halfman is now the site of Madison Preparatory Academy, an alternative high school for at-risk teens. The Madison Prep students will move to a new location, yet to be determined, for the 2015-16 school year. At that point, Halfman will be vacant.

The school occupies roughly 5 acres of land. The city owns about 3 of those 5 acres; the district owns about 2. The city has been loaning its land to the school district to help alleviate parking congestion at Halfman. According to the arrangement, the district can continue to use the land so long as Halfman remains a school.

What the district wants is for the city and the district to donate the entire property to Habitat for Humanity of Oakland County. Working together with Lawrence Tech University, as well as the students in the building trades program at Madison High, Habitat would create 25-30 new homes on the property, with green space mixed throughout.

Habitat would raise the estimated $3 million for the entire project, and it would find homeowners for the homes. At the same time, the students in the building trades program would gain experience and possibly even college credit through Lawrence Tech. The homes would be new designs that are unique in the community.

The district would also like to develop Monroe Park, another property that it owns, and Wilkinson Middle School, once the students are relocated to the new middle school. But Halfman is critical, said Madison Superintendent Randy Speck.

“If we can develop houses there, it would bring in new families, and if we have families there, that brings in new business, as well,” Speck said. “We’re looking for ways to stabilize our school district and to improve the community. It makes sense to do this.”

Madison Heights City Councilman Robert Corbett said he believes council is willing to work with the district on developing the land at Monroe Park and Wilkinson Middle School. However, Halfman is more complicated.

He said one consideration is the possible expansion of I-696 and I-75 in the coming years. Another consideration is the effect on property values. While a short-term boost is likely, Corbett cautioned that new houses at Halfman may make the area feel overdeveloped, which could have a negative effect on property values.

But the biggest hurdle seems to be how developing Halfman could possibly affect the city’s eligibility for state land grants. Corbett explained that when applying for a land grant, the state looks at how the city uses its current green spaces. He said the state won’t look favorably on the city developing the green space it already has.

Speck said the housing development would still have green space, and the district is willing to work with the city to get it right. He said the opportunity is too good to pass up, and there needs to be a dialogue.

“This would be a four-way partnership with Madison Schools, Habitat, Lawrence Tech and the city of Madison Heights,” Speck said. “It would bring unbelievable attention to the area. As a district, we believe we have a catalyst for growth. There hasn’t been new housing development in this part of the city in over 40 years, just like how there wasn’t a new school building built until we built it.”

He urged the city to act fast, before Habitat moves onto other projects. 

“We find ourselves in a unique position to drive community and economic development,” Speck said. “We just want the city to come to the table with something other than, ‘No, you can’t do that.’ We want the community to be aware.”