Madison school board wants to preserve green space at Halfman

Residents asked to share feedback at Wilkinson Middle School on Feb. 19

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published February 8, 2019

 City officials say that additional green space could qualify Madison Heights for more grant money.

City officials say that additional green space could qualify Madison Heights for more grant money.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

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MADISON HEIGHTS — The Madison District Public Schools Board of Education is considering ways to ensure that the green space at the former Halfman Elementary remains a park.

But first, the school board wants to hear the thoughts of residents during a special meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19, in the cafeteria at Wilkinson Middle School, located at 26524 John R Road.

The former Halfman Elementary — currently home to both Madison Preparatory Academy and the Madison Early Development Center — is located at 25601 Couzens Ave., between Hudson and Brockton avenues, east of John R Road, west of Dequindre Road, and north of Interstate 696.

The 1.75 acres at Halfman are owned by the Madison school district, while the 3.1 acres at the former Sunset Park were deeded from the city to the district in a land exchange deal in 2008. 

The district has been using the space primarily for parking at Halfman. The current arrangement is that the land reverts back to the city as soon as the district ceases to use the property for school purposes. 

However, the school board is interested in giving back the 3.1 acres of park space early. But a deal will be made only if the city agrees to keep it as park space available for everyone to enjoy, and only if residents of the district support the idea, said Mark Kimble, the board president.   

“This isn’t anything the city wouldn’t get eventually anyways, but by getting it early, the city could possibly get federal or state grant money. And what you’re going to get as a neighborhood is possibly the use of a better park and the promise that no one will build on it,” Kimble said. “Those are two big things for the residents, in my opinion.”

Once the school board has heard feedback from the residents, a decision will be made at a future meeting whether to make an offer to the city. At that point, the city would consider it. 

David Soltis, a member of the Madison Heights City Council, signaled interest in considering a proposal from the school district.

“I think anytime the city can partner with either of our school districts, that’s a positive situation and a win-win for everyone involved,” Soltis said. “In terms of green space and park usage, I think that we can always appreciate more areas for parks and recreation for our families.” 

Robert Corbett, also a member of the City Council, showed interest as well. Corbett serves as the council representative for the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.

“We would be very interested in looking at any proposals from the school district that would increase our overall recreation and green space,” Corbett said. “To be clear, we would not close the door completely to any development on that block, but certainly we would like to work with the school board to prioritize green space and to help the school district and the neighborhood in that regard.  

“Some more green space to increase our percentage within the city would help us qualify for additional federal funding and better serve that quadrant of the city,” he added. “That particular area is a bit light in recreational green space, so anything we can do to increase that footprint would be a net positive for the neighborhood. It would both increase the quality of life in the neighborhood, as well as increase property values.” 

The last time a new use was considered for the land at Halfman was when the previous school board proposed developing it into housing in a collaborative effort with Habitat for Humanity of Oakland County and Lawrence Technological University. That proposal was fiercely opposed by neighbors of the property, so the city refused to donate its share of the land. 

Of the five new board members who were elected in last fall’s election, four of them ran in part because they were concerned about another deal the previous board made in 2016, when then-board President Al Morrison oversaw the sale of 3.54 acres at the site of the former Monroe Elementary for just $60,000 to John David — owner of Emergency Restoration in Troy and a personal friend of his — without disclosing a conflict of interest, without any bids and without consulting taxpayers. More than 30 houses are now being built at the site.   

The four board trustees who campaigned against this deal are Debra Ott, Gloria Thompson, Amanda Locklear and Barbara Kastle. They ran together in a campaign endorsed by Kimble and former Trustee Cindy Holder. Kimble said that they’re trying to prevent another situation like Monroe, while also providing quality green space for the residents.   

“We’re continuing to look for ways to improve the quality of life for residents without spending a lot of money,” Kimble said. “This could also include work on other park properties. We’re looking for ways to benefit everyone without raising taxes. Wouldn’t it be nice if our park space rivaled park spaces in neighboring cities?” 

Corbett shared a similar sentiment. 

“I very much appreciate the school board’s interest in helping the city maintain its stock of available recreation space. If that property had several years ago gone over to being constructed, it would’ve been lost for several generations as possible green space,” Corbett said. “Experience has shown it’s always harder to reclaim property than it is to preserve it.”

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