Town hall, police station and more: Committee shares facilities recommendations for Ferndale
(Crystal A. Proxmire, Nov. 13, 2022)
Ferndale, MI – Time takes a toll on buildings, and technology and staffing needs change. That’s why the City of Ferndale created a Facilities Task Force to assess the city’s assets and needs and provide recommendations for moving forward, including a new City Hall, public safety building , etc.
The committee, made up of residents from a variety of backgrounds including entrepreneurship, architecture, construction and government, met regularly for more than six months. They visited each building to see the challenges first hand. They discussed a variety of options. And on October 17, 2022, they presented their recommendations to the council.
Donnie Johnson, a Ferndale resident who works for the City of Detroit and chair of the task force, made the presentation.
“We got to see a lot of the inner workings of municipal government in terms of infrastructure, buildings, vehicles – a lot of things that make government work that we don’t often see and take for granted,” said Johnson. “It’s one thing to see him in a news report. It’s another to see it with your own eyes.
He said many options were considered before coming up with the recommended plan. The plan is only a recommendation, and the council may or may not act on the suggestions it contains.
In the report’s cover letter, the task force “agreed on these themes”:
– Public facilities in Ferndale are in poor condition.
-First responders deserve healthy buildings that meet industry best practices.
-Residents deserve to have access to quality services and activities.
-City staff deserve an environment where they can do their best work on behalf of residents.
“Phase 1 prioritizes public safety,” Johnson said. It calls for converting Fire Station Two – located 9 Mile east of Hilton – into a consolidated police and fire department building – providing both departments with better working conditions and freeing up the current police station for other potential developments.
Fire Station One – located on Livernois – also needs to be enlarged and renovated. “In both cases, the firefighters are sleeping above the fire truck bays,” Johnson said. Because firefighters work long hours, they use the station to eat, sleep, and stay busy while waiting for fire and ambulance calls. “Our firefighters should not be expected to live in these conditions. These facilities are old. They are expired. They are broken.
Expansion of Fire Station One would require moving the current Ferndale Historical Society. The Society is not part of the city government, and the city does not own any of the historical items or documents it contains. Johnson said the Society has about 3 years to find a new home if the recommendations are followed.
The first phase also meets the needs of community centres. In September Ferndale voted to end the contract with Ferndale Schools for the rental of the Kulick Community Center building, which was formerly the school in Washington. The center – named after former mayor Gerry Kulick – has been closed for more than a year due to repair issues including the heating system and the roof. “It would take a lot of money, not even to restore it to good condition, but to make it operational,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense to invest millions in a building that the city doesn’t own.”
The task force recommended expanding the Martin Road Park concession stand into a facility that could include “an indoor/outdoor recreation facility including public restrooms, a sports equipment rental area, a multi-purpose room, a concession stand, staff office and storage space. Additional space at the community center is addressed in phase two with the recommendation to relocate the town hall.
Currently, the recreation department works from rented office space in the Incubizo coworking office space.
Another consideration in phase one is the SW Storage Yard – a space on the border with Royal Oak Township currently used for DPW storage. The task force recommends a public/private partnership to improve space and generate revenue. “It’s an industrial use. He doesn’t belong in a neighborhood,” Johnson said.
Phase two recommendations include moving City Hall to the top of the recently completed mixed-use parking structure in the city’s downtown core. The structure was built in such a way as to allow the construction of two floors above it.
“I know that might not be a popular recommendation,” Johnson said. But the advantages he listed include the centralized location, the ability to have community center space like meeting rooms and classrooms, and the fact that there are no other large plots of land on which to build a new facility. There is also already a relationship with the developer, which makes the process easier.
Johnson said of the current City Hall, “City Hall is in pretty bad shape when you look behind the walls”, referring to electrical, plumbing and HVAC. He also said it’s 7,000 square feet smaller than needed. The current land of the town hall and the police station could be sold.
The second phase also includes an overview of the Department of Public Works building. The property on E. Cambourne includes a salt barn which needs to be replaced. The task force recommends placing a new salt barn on Wanda property. They also recommend making improvements to the DPW building.
The facilities task force considered the financial implications of its recommendations and considered the long-term costs of repair versus replacement.
“At the end of the day, our message was not to make good money after bad,” Johnson said. “We have reached the point where it no longer makes sense to continue to invest as we have… We need transformational investments.”
“The costs on this sheet are scary,” he added. “Capital investment is expensive, but that’s what local government is there for. This is what we are called to do.
The task force recognized that the city’s general fund would not be sufficient to cover the costs of the suggestions.
The report gives two funding options, with the task force recommending the second.
The first is to issue bonds that raise funds for specific purposes. The bond proposals must be voted on by the public and each facility would require a separate vote. Examples of ballot initiatives could be $25 million for public safety facilities, $10 million for Fire 1 expansion, and $5 million for Martin Road Park facilities in the November 2024 election. And $18 million for the community center/town hall in the November 2026 election.
The second funding option is a Headlee Millage Replacement Renewal and Town Charter Amendment. Initiative 1 requires renewal of the 2015 voter operating mile via a Headlee waiver. Initiative 2 requires voters to change Charter language limiting the City’s Charter operating mile to dedicate 5 mills to facilities and 15 mills to general operating services. If both initiatives are approved by a majority of voters, a budget dedicated to maintaining General Fund facilities and improving capital assets would increase by approximately 75%. With the adoption of the two proposals, it would allocate 15 million for the operating fund and 5 million which would be reserved for facilities.
Ferndale City Council will review the suggestions and any action taken will be taken at future council meetings.
Mayor Melanie Piana thanked the task force. “I’m very proud of the work you’ve done here for the community on a complex subject with no path or answers,” she said. The report contained suggestions and no plan was developed or approved.
Members of the Facilities Task Force were Chris Best, Rachele Downs, Lynn Clark-Geiner, Donnie Johnson, Thomas Newman, Carla Pareja, David Strockis, Dale Vigliarolo and Quinn Zeagler.
Read the report here.