A CALL TO ACTION: PRESERVING A ROCHESTER TREASURE
UPDATE: If you were scheduled to appear at the March 14 Board of Education meeting under Public Comment on the agenda, be advised that the meeting has been canceled and rescheduled by RCS. The next meeting will be on March 21. If you requested placement on the agenda for March 14, you do not need to provide a new submission for March 21. Just attend — according to an RCS email. However, we encourage you to submit a request for public comment again, but this time for the March 21 meeting.
Please remain steadfast and show your support for the historical preservation of the Administration Building at the March 21 meeting. Continue to submit your opinion to the Board of Education and keep purchasing t-shirts.
**NOTE: If you missed the deadline to speak to the Board of Education or to submit a comment for inclusion in the board’s packet for the March 14, 2022, meeting, you can still email the board to express your opinions about the administration building. See the updated information below.
The RCS Board of Education needs to hear from you.
The RCS Board of Education will begin to assess proposals and bids for the sale of the building after March 28, 2022. Time is of the essence. If you support the historic preservation of the Administration Building, please take the time to communicate your thoughts to the RCS Board of Education.
The next regular RCS Board of Education meeting is Monday, March 21. This is the last meeting before the RFPs are due and it is the best opportunity to have your voice heard. Having a large turn-out of historic preservation supporters in person at the meeting could make an impression.
What you can do
- Attend in person and fill out a request to speak for three minutes during public comment at the end of the meeting. Request to be placed on the agenda to address the RCS Board of Education for three minutes at the start of the meeting.
- Fill out your request online at https://www.rochester.k12.mi.us/about-us/board-of-education/request-placement-on-agenda by 12 p.m. on the Wednesday (March 16) before the meeting.
- Attend in person as a show of support even if you prefer not to speak.
- Submit an email that will be published in the board packet.
- To email the RCS Board of Education, visit online at https://www.rochester.k12.mi.us/about-us/board-of-education/contact-the-board. Letters submitted by 12 p.m. on the Wednesday (March 16) before the meeting will be included in the board’s packet.
- Per RCS: Your phone number, email, and street address will be removed from your correspondence before it is published in the board packet or the board correspondence folder. To keep communications open between the Board of Education and the RCS administration, the superintendent and the executive director of strategic communications will be copied on emails sent to board members. The board members will respond to those emails.
The administration building is in grave danger of being razed by a new owner/developer.
In August 2021, RCS administrators formed the RCS Legacy Committee, made up of 32 citizens, community leaders, business owners, RCS parents and administrators, and local history preservationists. Their task was to discuss the current condition of the building and its contents, list potential uses and reuses for the building and site, and provide input on a Request for Proposals (RFP) for potential redevelopment of the administration building. The committee met only four times.
Over the course of four meetings, the RCS administration focused on what is currently wrong with the building’s interior and exterior conditions. Copies of the 2019 Kingscott building assessment and the 2021 Facility Analysis and Recommendation to the Board of Education included financial figures for tearing down the building and rebuilding on the current site, rehabbing the current building, and other options. These assessments were not done by a qualified historic preservation architect. One Legacy Committee meeting included presentations from local preservation experts.
An RFP was drafted by the RCS administration in November/December 2021. The Legacy Committee met in December to discuss the RFP and offer suggestions. RCS then issued an RFP for project bids to the public on January 11, 2022. Potential bidders have until March 28 to submit their bids and ideas for the site.
Rochester-Avon Historical Society (RAHS) president Tiffany Dziurman and others on the Legacy Committee have been seeking and speaking with qualified historic preservation developers through various professional communication channels, including the Michigan Historic Preservation Network, to share the RFP and encourage historical preservation-minded developers to bid on the project.
Call to Action
This site matters because it is part of the Rochester community’s story. It was the start of the Rochester area’s “Pride in Excellence” and education. The building is an iconic symbol of the emphasis the community places on education.
On January 25, 2022, the City of Rochester City Council unanimously approved the passage of a resolution noting that the City of Rochester and the City Council:
“values historical preservation and places great historical significance on the RCS Building and the historical items located therein . . . encourage the RCS Board of Education to consider alternative use or redevelopment of the property, including repurposing or relocation of the historical artifacts located therein, that complements the interests of the community and respects the heritage of the site; and encourage the RCS Board of Education to maximize opportunities for preserving the RCS Building, along with the WPA mural by Marvin Beerbohm, the WPA bas relief by Leonard Jungwirth, the various artwork, murals, artifacts, and other historical components located therein, and expresses its willingness to participate and lend assistance in furtherance of this goal.”
Additionally, the Oakland Township Historic Districts Commission and RAHS have issued separate resolutions expressing support for historically preserving the Administration Building.
How did we get here?
On April 12, 2021, the Rochester community was stunned to learn that the RCS Board of Education approved the purchase of the building on Dequindre and planned to move its administrative office to that location, thereby vacating the current Administration Building located at 501 W. University.
The Administration Building has served as a school or school office for 133 years and has been the site of a school building for 175 years. Many who live and have lived in the greater Rochester area care about the history and legacy of the Administration Building. The building is an iconic and historical landmark in Rochester.
The history of the Administration Building
The Village of Rochester was platted in 1826 and in 1829 the village became Avon School District No. 5. The RCS Administration Building sits on the site of the community’s first formal school built in 1847 by the Lyceum of Avon Township and informally called the “Rochester Academy,” while the school grounds were known locally as “Academy Hill.” The early faculty of the Rochester Academy included Antoinette Brown Blackwell, a teacher who was destined to impact American history as the first woman in the United States to be ordained a minister by a recognized Christian denomination. She was also a tireless national advocate for women’s suffrage. Additionally, Robert Clark Kedzie was an assistant teacher who went on to earn a medical degree as a member of the first class of the University of Michigan Medical College and, in 1863, began a 37-year tenure as a professor of chemistry at Michigan Agricultural College, now Michigan State University.
Ownership of the Rochester Academy transferred from the Lyceum of Avon to Avon School District No. 5 in 1857. However, the wooden building burned down in a fire in 1888 and was replaced by a new brick schoolhouse in 1889 designed by renowned Michigan architect Claire Allen. In 1916 an addition, designed by architects William J. Fisher and Charles A. Fisher, was built and named Rochester High School. A gymnasium, designed by architect Edward A. Schilling, was added to the school in 1929.
In 1934, the 1889 structure was renamed the William F. Harrison Building in honor of a beloved school custodian. Also in the early 1930s, the school was awarded a New Deal Civil Works Administration fund to remodel the 1889 structure and was the recipient of another New Deal program, the Federal Art Project, in which two murals were commissioned for the school: a bas relief by Leonard D. Jungwirth and an oil painting by Detroit artist Marvin Beerbohm.
In 1973, RCS relocated its administrative offices to 501 W. University Drive.
In 1987, the original Avon School District No. 5 Schoolhouse, now the William F. Harrison Building, became a State Registered Historic Site. In early 2021, RAHS began the process of nominating the entire campus to the National Register of Historic Places.
People travel across the United States and around the world to visit historic destinations. Yet how often do we take the time to tour and appreciate the historic sites in our community? The City of Rochester has a historic destination in its front yard. Another iconic site is down the road – the Rochester Elevator – which made this community grow and thrive with commerce and trade. As the economy grew, people came and wanted to educate their children. They built schools, like the ones that used to occupy the Administration Building. Losing an iconic structure like the Administration Building would wipe away the community’s prime examples of economic growth and pride in education – factors that continue to encourage people to live and work in the greater Rochester area.
The Administration Building and the artifacts, photographs, and other historical items located within belong to the citizen of the school district and the residents of the Rochester area. Will you help us preserve them?