Roadwork, new community center on horizon in Farmington, Farmington Hills

By: Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published March 12, 2019

 Farmington Mayor Steven Schneemann discusses the city’s future during the annual State of the the Cities address Feb. 13 at the Holiday Inn and Suites Farmington Hills.

Farmington Mayor Steven Schneemann discusses the city’s future during the annual State of the the Cities address Feb. 13 at the Holiday Inn and Suites Farmington Hills.

Photo by Deb Jacques

 Attendees listen to the address, presented by the Greater Farmington Area Chamber of Commerce.

Attendees listen to the address, presented by the Greater Farmington Area Chamber of Commerce.

Photo by Deb Jacques


FARMINGTON/FARMINGTON HILLS — The annual State of the Cities address Feb. 13 at the Holiday Inn and Suites Farmington Hills offered a glimpse of tomorrow.

Presented by the Greater Farmington Area Chamber of Commerce, the event kicked off with Farmington Hills Mayor Ken Massey’s look ahead.


Farmington Hills
“You are the citizens, business owners, the people who work in this community. … It’s our job as governance to make sure that the city meets and exceeds your expectations,” Massey said, stating that one of those expectations is properly functioning roads.

Massey said there will be a number of road projects this year, thanks to 59 percent of voters at the polls passing a road millage last November.

“In 2018, a huge amount of energy went into the largest charter change and millage passage as we moved away from paving our local roads through an antiquated systems of special assessment districts, and now we are going to be moving forward because the local road millage passed,” Massey said.

He added that with the passage — with a 59 percent margin — construction will happen within the 243 miles of local roads with “enhanced maintenance.”

Karen Mondora, the director of public services for the city of Farmington Hills, said in a follow-up email that the city is proposing to reconstruct 8.9 miles of local roads and to reconstruct/rehabilitate 3 miles of major roads.

“We do not yet have quantities for the asphalt and concrete replacement programs, as we have not awarded contracts for those,” she said in the email. “Those figures should be available at the end of March.”

“You’re going to see your tax dollars at work,” Massey said.

Massey noted that larcenies from vehicles are down 41 percent this year because residents are educated on not keeping valuables in sight. He said positive police relations with the public are fostered through a number of outreach and community programs.

“The stellar services that we provide wouldn’t be there if we weren’t a financially stable city,” he said. “It starts off with goal-setting sessions.”

For the last 35 years, the city has received budget awards from the Government Finance Officers Association.

“And we’re the city that has the highest number of these awards in the country,” he said, adding that the city maintains a AAA bond rating and its retirement systems are fully funded.

An entity that will soon call the city home in a new way is Harrison High School, which will be transformed into a state-of-the-art community center.

The Farmington Public Schools Board of Education voted in 2016 to close Harrison.

The school, which will close this June, was described as a community taxpayer asset because the community has paid several hundred million dollars in taxes for it over the years.

A letter of intent was issued to Farmington Public Schools from the city to take over and repurpose Harrison.

Massey said that HHS is a huge investment, and the city is outgrowing the Costick Activities Center.

In a follow-up email, Ellen S. Schnackel, the director of the Farmington Hills Special Services Division, said that the Costick Center will remain open as a community center.

“We intend to expand our programs and services there for adults 50 and better,” she added.

“Now (that) we have closed that deal, we will be taking over Harrison High School after the end of this school year and we will be repurposing it,” Massey said, adding that three gymnasiums, a performing arts center and more are planned.


Farmington Mayor Steve Schneemann presented his second annual State of the Cities address at the event.

“I talked about my vocation as an architect, my family, my passion for helping Farmington succeed,” he said of last year’s address, adding that he learned that the very first mayor of Farmington, Wells Butterfield, was an architect. “He actually lived in my neighborhood, just around the corner from my house. … So Farmington has design and placemaking in its DNA.”

Schneemann said that real assessed property values have increased by 7.3 percent over last year.

“So we are going in the right direction in Farmington,” he said. A new 3-mill levy approved by voters last November will generate approximately $1 million in additional tax revenue for the city.

“The majority of this revenue is going to be spent on infrastructure upgrades, roads, water, sewer line, parks, drains, streetscapes.”

Schneemann said the city is “eagerly awaiting” new plans for a residential redevelopment of the former Maxfield Training Center site, 33000 Thomas St. in downtown Farmington.

Redeveloping the Maxfield Training Center property into 60 multistory condos is in the works, “plans that are going to stitch nicely into the existing fabric of our downtown,” he said. “This is a significant project of our downtown  — tremendous impact.”

Schneemann noted that the Department of Public Works replaced all of the city’s neighborhood lights, a total of 544.

“That is going to save us about 33 percent, or $50,000 a year,” he said.

Numerous road projects are on tap to repave residential streets.

The Farmington Public Safety Department was accredited last June, and the city saw  an 11 percent decrease in part A crimes, the most serious ones.

Schneemann said that was “no accident.”

“Due to community outreach, coffee with cops, to patrol officers handing out free coupons to Silver Dairy,” he said. “This is a city whose residents not only love the city in which they live, but they also have a tremendous amount of trust in its leadership.”

Schneemann said that he would be remiss if he did not mention the passing of longtime volunteer and Miss Farmington fixture Ginny Morris.

“She was a great mentor to so many young women, a great friend to our community and a tireless volunteer,” he said.


Farmington Public Schools
Farmington Public Schools Superintendent George Heitsch said there is a “lot to celebrate” in FPS.

The school district currently serves about 9,350 students — within the last decade, it had a high population of over 12,000.

“We’ve had a 22 percent decline in the last decade,” Heitsch said, adding that the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments predicts that the southeast Michigan school population is going to decline another 10 percent by 2025.

“For those that are familiar with school funding, the more students you have, the more money you get. The less students you have, the less money you have to educate,” Heitsch said.

The district comprises 55-60 percent white students, about 25 percent African-American students and 12-14 percent Asian students, he said.

“That has been really consistent even as we have lost population,” he said.

The district’s graduation rate is 90-91 percent; the state average is about 81 percent.

“Last year in Farmington High School, for one of the first times in my public education career, every student that started their senior year as a senior walked across the stage,” he said.

Heitsch said this is a “college community,” and in 2014-15, 85 percent of their graduates went to college right away. The most recent data reflects the same of FPS high school graduates.

He said the district’s operating budget when he became superintendent was $147 million annually, 85 to 88 percent of which was for staffing. FPS is now down to about $137 million due to population loss.

Students who come from families that are near the poverty level, depending on family size, are now up to 26 percent.

“In an elementary that has 100 (second-grade) students, 26 of those students are coming to us with food insecurity,” Heitsch said. “During a day, they are getting breakfast and lunch from us. … Food insecurity is a big deal for kids, and you can’t learn much when you are hungry.”

Heitsch said the last decade of public education has been tough.

“The recession hit all of us, but it’s been slow coming back in public education,” he said, adding that accountability, demands and expectations have changed significantly.

In his generation, he was one of the few students in his class of 450 to go to college.

“The majority of my classmates went to Flint or Pontiac and had a job in two weeks on a shop floor building cars,” he said. He would come home from college feeling jealous because they were making a lot of money and having more fun than he was. “Today, we expect everybody to be college and career ready, and we have great staff to do that.”