The Harper Woods School District, with Superintendent Steven McGhee and school board President Regina Williams, celebrated the opening of its new middle school building, christening it Triumph Middle School Oct. 4. It will solve the long-standing overcrowding issue that was present when the middle school shared facilities with Harper Woods High School.

The Harper Woods School District, with Superintendent Steven McGhee and school board President Regina Williams, celebrated the opening of its new middle school building, christening it Triumph Middle School Oct. 4. It will solve the long-standing overcrowding issue that was present when the middle school shared facilities with Harper Woods High School.

File photo by Sarah Purlee


Remember some events that shaped 2018 in Harper Woods, Detroit

By: Brendan Losinski | Advertiser Times | Published January 11, 2019

 The Harper Woods community was rocked by a house explosion in September. Thieves who had broken into the unoccupied home had caused a gas leak when they attempted to remove the home’s furnace.

The Harper Woods community was rocked by a house explosion in September. Thieves who had broken into the unoccupied home had caused a gas leak when they attempted to remove the home’s furnace.

File photo provided by the Harper Woods Department of Public Safety

 Many in the Harper Woods community are keeping a close eye on the fate of Eastland Center, which was purchased at auction in October. New owners could mean a new economic boost for the city.

Many in the Harper Woods community are keeping a close eye on the fate of Eastland Center, which was purchased at auction in October. New owners could mean a new economic boost for the city.

File photo by Deb Jacques

 Michael Lynch, a former Harper Woods Department of Public Safety officer, was sentenced in February for removing several items from the department’s evidence room, including a package of heroin.

Michael Lynch, a former Harper Woods Department of Public Safety officer, was sentenced in February for removing several items from the department’s evidence room, including a package of heroin.

File photo by Sean Work

 Many in Harper Woods, including Mayor Kenneth Poynter and City Manager Joe Rheker, will be keeping a close eye on Eastland Center in 2019 after it was purchased at auction in October.

Many in Harper Woods, including Mayor Kenneth Poynter and City Manager Joe Rheker, will be keeping a close eye on Eastland Center in 2019 after it was purchased at auction in October.

Photo by Brendan Losinski

 Harper Woods City Manager Randolph Skotarczyk, left, retired in March after helping usher the city through one of the toughest economic times in its history. Joe Rheker, right, takes the oath of office as Skotarczyk’s successor.

Harper Woods City Manager Randolph Skotarczyk, left, retired in March after helping usher the city through one of the toughest economic times in its history. Joe Rheker, right, takes the oath of office as Skotarczyk’s successor.

File photo by Sean Work

 Wayne State University opened its new Mike Ilitch School of Business facility on Woodward Avenue in Detroit in August. The facility will provide new educational opportunities to students from all over the metro Detroit area.

Wayne State University opened its new Mike Ilitch School of Business facility on Woodward Avenue in Detroit in August. The facility will provide new educational opportunities to students from all over the metro Detroit area.

File photo by Deb Jacques

 The trial of former Michigan state trooper Mark Bessner was declared a mistrial Oct. 31 after three days of deliberations. Bessner is accused of improperly deploying a Taser and causing the death of a 15-year-old teen; a retrial is underway.

The trial of former Michigan state trooper Mark Bessner was declared a mistrial Oct. 31 after three days of deliberations. Bessner is accused of improperly deploying a Taser and causing the death of a 15-year-old teen; a retrial is underway.

File photo by Deb Jacques

HARPER WOODS/DETROIT — It was an eventful year for Harper Woods and Detroit, and the Advertiser Times is highlighting some of the most significant and most read stories of 2018.

 

Eastland Center purchased at auction
New hope for the Eastland Center Mall in Harper Woods was kindled in 2018 as the majority of the property was purchased by the Kohan Real Estate Group when the property was put up for auction in October.

More than 640,000 square feet of the long-struggling mall was purchased, which consists of most of the retail space except for separately owned stores such as Home Depot and Lowe’s, and the sites still owned by other private companies such as Target and Macy’s.

The bid was for $3.125 million, and the new owners are now working with the city and local business owners to look for ways to revitalize Eastland Center. Among the options being considered are selling part of the property for uses other than retail — such as apartments — or entering into a public/private partnership so that some of the property could be used to house Harper Woods City Hall, the Department of Public Safety and the 32-A District Court.

 

Harper Woods opens new middle school building
The Harper Woods School District opened its new Triumph Middle School with a ribbon cutting Oct. 4.

Formerly the home of Heart Academy, the building is located on the grounds of Triumph Church on Anita Street. The school district had been searching for a solution to overcrowding in its high school building, which could no longer accommodate students from both the high school and the middle school.

Enrollment at the high school increased from 434 to 583 students between the 2013-14 school year and the 2017-18 school year, while middle school enrollment increased from 203 to 250 students in the same period of time. The new building includes 43 classrooms, a full office, a gym and a cafeteria.

Classes began at the start of the current school year Sept. 4.

 

Former Harper Woods officer is sentenced
A former Harper Woods Department of Public Safety officer was sentenced Feb. 27 for his improper removal of several items, including an unknown amount of heroin, from the department’s property room.

Michael Lynch, 37, had been charged with six counts of larceny in a building, misconduct in office and possession of heroin after being accused of stealing items from the department’s property room in February 2017.

He pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled substance and two counts of misconduct in office, and all six charges of larceny in a building were dismissed, according to 3rd Circuit Court records. He was sentenced to two years of probation and was required to enroll in a residential inpatient drug treatment program, followed by intensive outpatient treatment, as well as a mental health evaluation.

 

Harper Woods is shaken by house explosion
The Harper Woods community was literally rocked by a house explosion Sept. 21.

The incident occurred at a home on Lennon Street that was being renovated and was up for sale at the time of the blast. Investigators said that thieves had broken into the house to steal its furnace and disconnected it from its gas lines in the process. The next day, two appraisers arrived to look at the home, and police said their opening the door likely triggered the explosion that had been set in motion by the attempted theft.

The two appraisers, as well as a neighbor, were transported to a nearby hospital for injuries suffered in the explosion. The house was leveled.

Five days later, a second house in Harper Woods, this one on Woodside Street, that was up for sale was found with its furnace missing and gas leaking into the home. Fortunately, this one was detected and dealt with before there was any further destruction.

Harper Woods police officers and officials from DTE Energy warned residents to be cautious and call their energy provider if they smell gas.

 

Mistrial declared in Michigan state trooper trial
A mistrial was declared in the trial of Mark Bessner, the former Michigan state trooper accused of improperly deploying a Taser from the passenger seat of a patrol car during a vehicular chase and allegedly causing the death of 15-year-old Damon Grimes.

Prosecutors said Grimes lost control of the all-terrain vehicle he was riding when he was hit by Bessner’s Taser, which caused Grimes to fatally crash into a parked vehicle. Bessner’s attorney, Richard Convertino, argued that Bessner was acting in self-defense because he saw Grimes reach for his waistband, although it was later determined that Grimes was unarmed.

Bessner was accused of one count of second-degree murder and one count of involuntary manslaughter. The jury was in deliberations from Oct. 29 until Oct. 31, when the mistrial was declared because the jury could not reach a verdict. A new trial began Nov. 7, and Bessner’s next court date is a pretrial conference March 8 in the 3rd Circuit Court in Detroit.

 

Mike Ilitch School of Business opens in Detroit
Wayne State University and Detroit celebrated the opening of the Mike Ilitch School of Business in August.

The new building is located on Woodward Avenue and was made possible thanks in large part to a $40 million gift from Marian Ilitch and her late husband, Mike Ilitch, both long-standing supporters of the university.

School administrators said the new building will provide new resources that will result in far more opportunities for Detroit college students and will continue the increase in younger people moving to the city and utilizing Detroit as a center for business.

Wayne State has seen a 65 percent increase in enrollment in its business school since 2015, when construction on the new building began. The university said more than 1,400 students are enrolled in the business school.

 

Harper Woods celebrates its first Juneteenth festival
Harper Woods residents got a dose of history and culture as the community celebrated its first Juneteenth festival June 19 at Salter Park.

Juneteenth commemorates the ending of slavery during the Civil War; President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, but the news slowly spread to the freed slaves across the country. Slaves in Texas found out that they were now free on June 19, 1865, which gives Juneteenth its name.

The event was organized by a panel of community members with help from the Grosse Pointe-Harper Woods branch of the NAACP.

“In the Detroit area, we don’t do a lot of celebration of it, and I wanted to do it here in Harper Woods, as part of the new NAACP branch out here, to give people an idea about what slavery was about and what emancipation did,” said panel member and Harper Woods Mayor Pro Tem Valerie Kindle just prior to the event.

 

Harper Woods City Manager Randolph Skotarczyk retires
Harper Woods City Manager Randolph Skotarczyk retired from his position on March 29, bringing an end to a long career in Harper Woods.

Skotarczyk had previously been chief of the Harper Woods Police Department. After leaving the department in March of 2011, he was asked to step in as interim city manager later that year in August. Two months later, he was kept on as the permanent city manager.

Many in the community, including Mayor Kenneth Poynter and Skotarczyk’s successor and previous deputy city manager, Joe Rheker, hailed Skotarczyk as a hardworking and crucial member of the community who shepherded the city through some of the toughest economic times in its history.

“In 2011, I made perhaps the best phone call in my time as mayor, asking (Skotarczyk) to come on. Thanks to him, we avoided an emergency financial manager and bankruptcy,” Poynter said in March. “He earned in his time here the respect of this city government and its residents.”