The current administration building is made up of three individual schools that were eventually connected to create one large school campus.

The current administration building is made up of three individual schools that were eventually connected to create one large school campus.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

RCS purchases $7 million office and warehouse facility

‘Any and all options could be considered’ for historic admin building

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published May 26, 2021


ROCHESTER — Rochester Community Schools will soon vacate its historic administration building at 501. W. University Drive in downtown Rochester.

RCS Superintendent Robert Shaner said the current 90,000-square-foot building is in disrepair.

“It doesn’t take one much to walk around this building and see the condition that it’s in,” Shaner said.

A rich history
The current RCS administration building consists of three individual schools that were connected over the years to form one complex. Rochester-Avon Historical Society President Tiffany Dziurman said there has been a school building on the site since 1847, 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 — the 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 district’s last major renovation of the structure was in the late 1980s, according to the district’s website.

An aging infrastructure
Knowing that the building was in dire need of updates, the district hired architecture firm Kingscott & Associates to complete an assessment of the building in 2018, which identified issues with infrastructure, code and Americans with Disabilities Act compliance. According to a 2019 report, the architecture firm said the district needed to replace the roof and parapet, demolish and reconstruct the lobby atrium addition, add and repair barrier-free public restrooms, renovate the elevators, and rebuild the internal stairways, guardrails, handrails and fire-rated doors in the building. The report also cited damaged and leaking windows and doors, as well as stairs and stairways that do not meet ADA barrier-free codes.

Kingscott & Associates said it would cost the district anywhere between $21.2 million and $29.1 million to renovate the building, while tearing it down and constructing a new facility would cost between $26.4 million and $31.4 million.

“The interesting thing about building projects like this is that once you open up a project, you have to bring the whole project up to code, which is very, very expensive, and oftentimes, not an efficient use of the space as well,” Shaner explained.

A new space
This winter, while the district was considering options for the renovations, a roughly 93,000-square-foot building on Dequindre Road in Rochester became available.

The district worked with real estate attorney Scott Fraim, of Henneke, Fraim and Dawes, and real estate broker Rich Kuehnle, of Kuehnle & Associates, to keep its identity temporarily under wraps during negotiations, since officials said disclosing that RCS was interested in the property could have compromised negotiations and raised pricing by 30%-40%.

On April 12, the Rochester Community Schools Board of Education unanimously voted to allow the district to purchase the property at 52585 Dequindre Road — the former Letica Corp. office and warehouse facility — for $7 million.

“The current (administration) building lasted the school district, in some shape or form, over 100 years,” Shaner said. “The Dequindre Road property was built in 1997, so I really feel like this is legacy work for the future of the school district.”

Matt McDaniel, the district’s executive director for business operations, said RCS is financing the acquisition with $2 million from the general fund, $2 million from the 2019 sinking fund, and a five-year $3 million loan with an interest rate of 1.24%.

“The sinking fund will be used to satisfy the loan over the course of the next five years,” he said.

The new building — which sits on over 17 acres of property — includes 64,000-square-feet of space for the district’s administrative offices and a 29,000-square-foot warehouse space to accommodate districtwide shipping, receiving and storage needs. The building will provide a permanent, secure location for the district’s data center and technology operations, district officials said.

“I do feel very good about the Dequindre Road property in terms of getting, No. 1, really, the most bang for the buck, so to speak, for the taxpayer, as well as maintaining our commitment to our employees to make sure they have a workspace that’s comfortable, efficient, and most importantly, safe for them,” Shaner said.

Rochester Community Schools has approximately $3.6 million remaining from 2015 bond dollars budgeted for administrative building improvements that McDaniel said will address required parking lot, lighting, masonry control joints and flooring replacements, repairs and upgrades at the new facility — bringing the total estimated project cost to $10.48 million.

“As our duty to be good fiduciaries of the taxpayers’ money, it just seems to make a lot more sense to put money into a building that could last another 100 years, rather than into a building that we would have to put in excess of $20 million into,” Shaner said.

At press time, the district did not have a date for when the current administration building’s 125 employees would relocate to the new facility.

“There’s a few things that need to be done at the new building. As you can imagine, those things need to be designed and go through the bid process, which is somewhat time consuming, but necessary. Once we have those designs and have the project ready to bid, the board will consider them, award them, and then we will be able to establish a timeline,” he said.

Preserving the past
Like many in the community, Dziurman is concerned about what will become of the current historic administration building.

“That building, in particular, is kind of a focal piece. It’s right in downtown Rochester, in a sense, and everybody knows that building,” she said. “It was kind of a surprise announcement to a lot of people that the district already had another building in mind.”

Dziurman said the 1889 Harrison School building was placed on the Michigan Register of Historic Sites in 1987, although an official historic marker was never erected for the building.

Her hope is that the district can repurpose at least a portion of the current administration building in some way, keeping its historical significance alive in the community.

“It’s a pretty big site and a pretty big building with a lot of historic character and significance associated with it, and we would hate to see it torn down,” she said. “The Historical Society’s stance is, we are not against development; we hope that development can be done in tandem with historic preservation, so that we can maintain what we have left, because it’s not a lot.”

While Shaner said he doesn’t know what’s going to be done with the current administration building once it’s vacated, the district is in the process of putting together a committee of stakeholders to consider the options. The committee, Shaner said, will include representatives from the city of Rochester and the Rochester Avon Historical Society as well as “other community members and stakeholders.”

“We certainly want to respect what this building has meant to so many people in this community — whether they went to middle school here or graduated from high school — and work together with our community stakeholders. We’ll do that and we will come up with a good solution,” he said. “No decision has been made at this point, and any and all options could be considered at the table.”

The district has plans to incorporate some components of the district’s history — including Marvin Beerbohm’s “Industrial Environment of Rochester High School” 1938 mural that was restored in 2011, a restored mural by Leonard Jungwirth, and other treasured artwork, archives and artifacts — into the new office space.

“There are things in this building of historic architectural significance, and we will make a very intentional effort to protect those things and make sure that they stay part of the Rochester Community Schools’ legacy and administration building, wherever that may be,” Shaner said.

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