Ferndale could see 90 new housing units at 2 school sites

The former William Taft school could make way for townhomes.
The former William Taft school could make way for townhomes.

A former adult-education high school and a college-prep high school could be demolished and the properties redeveloped as housing under a proposal being weighed by Ferndale Public Schools as part of its ongoing restructuring initiative.

The proposals, which were unveiled during a public event last week, are part of a request for proposal the district issued for the former Taft Elementary, which was most recently the Digital Learning Center until its closure in late 2014, and the Woodrow Wilson school, which was the former home of the University High School in partnership with Wayne State University.

The district is offering the two 5-acre properties as a package deal as part of its efforts to downsize its aging real estate holdings to better match enrollment. The district expects to earn about $1 million for the two sites.

Schools Superintendent Blake Prewitt said the district received four proposals for the two properties but dismissed three of them for various reasons. The finalist, whose identity the district is not releasing, is proposing to build 62 townhouse units at the former Taft site and about 30 single-family homes at the Wilson site.

The developer has redeveloped many former school properties and has built housing in Ferndale before, Prewitt said.

At Taft, the builder proposes to extend Gardendale Street south through the development. The development would feature clusters of three attached townhomes separated by open space, brick and stone siding, rear garages and 40-foot setbacks from the streets.

Homes at the Wilson site, on Paxton Street, would range up to four- and five-bedroom homes and would conform to the neighborhood’s average lot size, Prewitt said.

The district last year sold the former Thomas Jefferson school, on Republic Avenue in Oak Park, for $550,000 to a Troy-based nonprofit that plans a $15.8 million redevelopment as 60 affordable housing units, including new townhouse-style units, called Jefferson Oaks.

Selling the buildings is a key part of a restructuring plan that the district says will take its real estate holdings from 50 percent occupancy to around 80 percent, saving money on building upkeep and generating revenue for upgrades at other buildings and to plow back into the classroom.

Taft, which until recently was used as a voting precinct location, is a solidly built school with loads of character.
Taft, which until recently was used as a voting precinct location, is a solidly built school with loads of character.

The redevelopment proposal is expected to go up for a vote by the Ferndale Board of Education May 17. From there, it would need the approval of city’s planning commission and City Council.

“The sooner we get the buildings offline the sooner we can get the money back into the classrooms,” Prewitt said.

The district plans to seek a 15-year, 1.3-mills sinking fund millage on the Aug. 2 ballot that it says would raise about $850,000 annually to fund school repairs. It will hold a community forum May 26 at 7 p.m. at Ferndale High School Auditorium.

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