Task force recommends firm for park design

By: Victoria Mitchell | Royal Oak Review | Published July 12, 2017

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ROYAL OAK — Commissioners were expected to cast their votes earlier this week on the Normandy Oaks Task Force recommendation to hire Nowak & Fraus for park architectural services.

Royal Oak City Manager Don Johnson said the recommendation would be on the City Commission’s July 10 agenda. The Review went to press before the meeting.

Normandy Oaks Task Force Chair Mike Ripinski said that if the City Commission approves the firm, the next step would be to begin public engagement in multiple ways to hear stakeholders’ input.

The task force met June 29 inside the Mahany/Meininger Senior Center to make its final choice after hearing five pitches the prior week that detailed why each firm believed it would be the best to lead the public input portion and the design and development of Normandy Oaks Park, and to lead the public input portion only for a proposed downtown central park.

Before making a final decision, task force members expressed their top two to three choices. The majority showed interest in Kahn & Associates, Russell Design and Nowak & Fraus. 

Other firms vying for the job included LivingLAB and Fleis & VandenBrink.

The task force voted 4-1 in favor of Nowak & Fraus.

City Commissioner David Poulton and Mayor Pro Tem Sharlan Douglas — who also sit on the task force — split their votes to recommend Nowak & Fraus.

“In my opinion, it’s the only choice,” Poulton said. “To me, they are head and shoulders above the other folks.”

Poulton said not only did Nowak & Fraus lay out what he would like to see at the park — including soccer fields, a splash pad, ice skating, a sledding hill and a pavillion —  but the firm also had turf management experts as part of its team. The commissioner said that adding soccer fields was something that was implied would happen when 77 percent of voters cast ballots in favor of turning 40 acres of the shuttered Normandy Oaks Golf Course into parkland in 2014.

“I think their vision makes the most appropriate use of that property,” Poulton said, adding that the firm has extensive experience.

Douglas said her philosophical approach came down to looking for an architectural firm that would retain the services of engineers rather than an engineering firm that would retain the services of architects.

“And Russell Design is that,” she said.

Douglas said she also was impressed by Russell Design’s comprehensive public engagement plan.

“I really feel like the voices of the people would be most effectively heard using Russell Design’s processes,” she said.

City Commissioner Kyle DuBuc, who attended the meeting and spoke during the public comment portion, let task force members know that he also preferred Russell Design.

During their initial presentation, Nowak & Fraus representatives said the company has extensive experience in leading and gathering public input.

To gather public input, they said, they would use town meetings, surveys and charrettes.

“I thought their public engagement hit the nail on the head,” Ripinski said.

Initial plans for the property they proposed included soccer fields at the north end of the property and passive uses near the southern portion, or the portion of parkland on Normandy.

Resident Stephanie Comptois lives across the street from the future park and has been following the development process closely. She and her husband, Marc Comptois, attended the presentations and read all of the submitted documentation.

“They were our second favorite,” she said following the meeting.

The couple said their first pick would have been Russell Design, because they liked that firm’s vision of appreciating what is there already when talking about preserving the southeast portion of the park as an arboretum or other natural feature to include the mature tree growth.

“The southeast corner of the park is probably the most precious piece of land in that park, as far as preserving what is there,” Marc Comptois said.

Other residents spoke during the public comment portion of the June 29 meeting to express their desires for the park development, and their concerns over tree removal on the park property and on the 10 acres purchased by Robertson Brothers Homes for residential housing. The $3.85 million from the sale of that 10-acre parcel of the shuttered golf course is going to be used to develop the remaining 40 acres as a park.

“We want to be sure we’re doing our very best to identify which trees are valuable, which trees are not valuable and what we can do to protect the trees in that park,” said resident Daniel Bouchey. “You just don’t get another 150-year-old oak tree.”

The Normandy Oaks Task Force was formed in March 2014 and was charged with creating a plan for the property located at 4234 Delemere Blvd., on the city’s north side; marketing and selling the 10 acres of saleable land; and developing the remaining acreage. City officials have said the park’s amenities may include soccer fields, biking and walking trails, a splash pad, a park pavilion and a sledding hill.

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