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Northville, school district battle over historic school building

City files lawsuit against school district

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NORTHVILLE, Mich. – Usually, the city and its school district are happily tied together but in Northville that is not the case.

The city of Northville filed a lawsuit in Wayne County District Court attempting to stop the school board from trying to demolish a historic school building.

As in many older Michigan cities, Northville's old high school sits empty after having been replaced by more modern structures.

The school district could potentially receive $500,000 for leveling the building and allowing a local contractor to build a few homes there.

Local historic preservation supporter Leanie Bayley sees something entirely different in the old brick building.

"We're very concerned. We have a midcentury modern structure that put Northville on the world map, not just Northville's map," Bayley said.

She said that, in 1939, the architecture was groundbreaking. The building sits in Northville's historic district.

The legal question is whether the school district can demolish a historic building without first going before Northville's Historic District Commission for permission.

Northville Public Schools Superintendent Mary Kay Gallagher cites a 1997 ruling by the attorney general that she believes allows her to demolish the building and sell the property.

The ruling said a local school district is not required to obtain a permit under the local historic districts act before commencing work affecting the exterior appearance of a school building located within a local historic district.

Northville Mayor Ken Roth released the following statement Tuesday afternoon: "The city is not voicing an opinion on whether the building should stay or go, but we are requesting that the district follow the same rules that our residents follow, which require them to seek HDC approval."

Bill Stockausen, a member of the historic society, agrees. "I don't think the school board is anyone special that can end around the law," he said.

The school superintendent put out a statement saying she is deeply disappointed and disheartened by the city's lawsuit. She believes the building is not salvageable and is too expensive to keep. She also said she was open and tried working with the city to prevent a lawsuit.


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