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Macomb County opens reference research center

The old Macomb County Library building on Hall Road has reopened as the Wayne State University Macomb Education Center.

Wayne State took over the 29,000-square-foot building last year and invested $3.4 million into breathing new life into the circa-1979 structure. Today it primarily hosts classes for Wayne State students, but it also houses the Macomb County's Reference and Research Center.

"The building is beautiful," says Sandy Casamer, manager of the Macomb County's Reference and Research Center.

Renovations include new paint, carpet, light fixtures, restrooms, and a new layout to the single-story building at 16480 Hall Road. The Reference and Research Center offers 75 databases to the public, as well as access to databases from Wayne State University. It also maintains a 2,000-volume reference collection, Wi-Fi, and 12 internet terminals for public use. Databases are accessible through its new Web address.

Source: Sandy Casamer, manager of the Macomb County's Reference and Research Center
Writer: Jon Zemke

Oakland Schools Technical Campus adds solar, wind systems

The Oakland Schools Technical Campus in Clarkston is going for a twofer in alternative energy, installing both a solar- and a wind-power system.

Over the last year, Oak Electric has been working with the school to get approvals for permits and to sort out engineering issues. The foundations for the solar panels and the wind turbine have been poured and installation of the actual equipment will begin next week. Both systems should be up and running by the end of May.

The school district is spending $36,000 to install a two-kilowatt ground-mount solar system, which will be installed first. Next is a 2.4 kilowatt Skystream wind turbine that will stand 45 feet tall.

Both systems will be used to power the campus. They will also be used as teaching tools for students to learn about the ins and out of alternative energy.

Source: Gary Pipia, president of Oak Electric
Writer: Jon Zemke

Downtown Auburn Hills offers free Wi-Fi

Downtown Auburn Hills is now laptop friendly after installing free Wi-Fi service for the quaint city center.

The new service allows anyone with a laptop or a smartphone to surf the Internet with wild abandon. This came about as one of the recommendations of the city's 2009 HyettPalma Economic Enhancement Strategy for the Downtown.

"That's what people said they wanted to see if they moved down to the area or work there," says Peter Auger, city manager for Auburn Hills.

Local leaders also see the service as a way to make the area a desirable destination. Other suggestions include increasing business development, making public improvements, and marketing and managing the downtown.

"We'll see where it goes," Auger says. "If it reaches the point where we should increase the bandwidth, that's a good story."

Auburn Hills-based Netarx, a Wi-Fi vendor, used Cisco equipment to make the service operational. The total price for installation came to $43,358.78, which was funded by the city's tax increment finance authority.

Source: Peter Auger, city manager for Auburn Hills
Writer: Jon Zemke

Q&A with Ron Campbell on the Oak Street Fair

Preserving and improving existing building stock will be a central theme to this year's Oak Street Fair in Hazel Park. The event will focus on helping Oakland County's urban stakeholders revitalize their neighborhoods through sustainable rehabilitation and playing to the area's strengths, such as its local character.

The free event will be held in Scout Park from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Ron Campbell, a principal planner/preservation architect for Oakland County Planning & Economic Development, is helping organize the event and Oakland County's Oak Street program. He agreed to answer a few questions over email about the event and preservation of the region's housing stock.

In a sentence or two, could you sum up what people attending the Oak Street Fair could come away with in regards to improving their home and their neighborhood?

Oak Street and the Oak Street House is a generic term that we are applying to any house built before 1960. We want these home owners to realize that their homes are unique. The issue of keeping and maintaining a house built in 1890 is going to be different than it will be for a house built in 1930, which will be different than for a house built in 1950. Homeowners should come away understanding that maintenance and repair can be very cost effective and there are resources available from experts who understand and have worked with older homes, which is far different than new construction. We want to build a resource bank of knowledgeable and skilled people to share with homeowners.

Metro Detroit's urban housing stock is aging and in many cases crossing the century mark, but many of its building and housing policies, practices, and even conventional wisdom are geared toward new housing. Could you name one policy or idea that either already is or could help bring more of a focus on making the most of the building stock that we have?

A good example that comes to mind is Oakland County's Oak Street program. The primary purpose of Oak Street is to make homeowners and local officials more aware of the economic and social value embodied in established neighborhoods. Also, there are many existing programs/movements focusing on the existing housing stock. The Community Development Block Grant Funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has also provided focus to the importance of existing neighborhoods and homes. But by far the best-known one is the green movement or sustainable design. If it makes sense to recycle soda cans and bottles, how much more sense does it make to recycle our buildings. The greenest house in America today is one that you don't have to build –because it already exists. Building green is more than using Energy Star appliances and bamboo flooring. It is far more environmentally friendly to repair than replace. Fairgoers will find exhibitors to show how you can be green, save money, and have curbside appeal for your home.

Historic preservation is a term that everyone in Metro Detroit seems to easily identify with but is not the best at when it comes to practicing its ideas. The state also recently passed enhanced historical preservation incentives. How much of an impact could these incentives have on making local stakeholders more preservation inclined?

There are various incentives for historic homes, including tax credits, which are effective for those stakeholders, but those incentives apply only to a very small percentage of the existing housing stock. While historic preservation is a component and tool within the Oak Street program, Oak Street is more of a smart rehab program than a historic preservation program. We would certainly advise homeowners to the principals of historic preservation when they repair and remodel their homes; but it would be more with an eye to the economic and environmental sense it makes. The more we can help people realize the extent of the investment our neighborhoods represent and the benefit that we all receive when that investment and unique character that distinguishes their house or neighborhood from others is protected, then the more new and innovative programs will be available to help this larger population.

Name an idea, policy, or mindset from elsewhere that you would like to see this region adopt?

We don't have to go too far to find examples of strong and vibrant neighborhoods. They are sprinkled throughout this region. What helps neighborhoods stand out comes from the housing stock being maintained and the intrinsic character of the houses and neighborhood being preserved. Recognizing what the important features and character are is difficult to put a finger on, but it includes everything from architectural style to walkability. Oak Street is envisioned to help homeowners and neighborhoods discover theirs and provide the means to protect it.

Source: Ron Campbell, principal planner/preservation architect for Oakland County Planning & Economic Development
Writer: Jon Zemke

Celebrate construction kick-off for Newberry Hall on May 6

It's getting hard to keep count of all of the historic rehabs going on in Midtown, Detroit's most vibrant and dynamic neighborhood. The latest addition to that list of investment is the new life that is being breathed into the Newberry Hall by the Detroit Medical Center.

Excerpt:

It's taken 4 1/2 years to get off the ground, but renovation is now underway at Newberry Hall, the former nurses' housing located on John R at Willis in Midtown. Built in 1898, funded by the Newberry family -- major investors in the Packard Motor Co. -- and designed by Elijah Meijer, the architect who designed the Michigan State Capital among several others, the building has "social importance to Detroit and architectural importance to Detroit," says Ernie Zachary of development and finance consultant firm Zachary and Associates. "It's a really important building and to lose this building would be criminal."

Over the past few years, the developer has changed, but the goal has remained consistent: to renovate the structure into housing. There will be 28 rental units ranging in size from 700 to 900 square feet available for $1.30/square foot. Zachary expects construction to take a year.

Read the rest of the story here.

Conceptual design nearly done for Ann Arbor Skatepark

Ann Arbor's first skatepark will take a big ride toward becoming a reality when conceptual plans are released later today.

Excerpt:

What will the plans for Ann Arbor's first skatepark look like when they're revealed later this month? Interested skaters and fans of the longtime underground sport should look east for clues.

Trevor Staples, chair of the Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark, says they are using the new Riley Skatepark in Farmington Hills as a sort of template for what they plan to build.  They are also working to make sure storm water run-off is taken care of and public art is incorporated so everyone can enjoy the new facility.

"Our goal is to have something for every skater," Staples says. "We want to have beginner, intermediate, and expert levels right next to each other so they can learn from each other."

Read the rest of the story here.

Work begins on Crisler Arena complex addition, renovation

Before the University of Michigan can start developing its new class of basketball stars at Crisler Arena, it needs to finish working on its new Player Development Center. Work starts today.

Excerpt:

Construction fences will go up and shovels will go into the ground this week for the new Player Development Center at Crisler Arena for the University of Michigan Men's Basketball team.

"It will start to look like work is happening on Thursday," says Steve Donoghue, design manager for the University of Michigan.

Read the rest of the story here.

Woodward sculptures set for downtown Pontiac, Detroit

The Woodward Tribute sculpture project is set to gain momentum this summer, now that plans for one in downtown Pontiac have a green light and another in downtown Detroit are primed and ready to go.

The UAW and General Motors have pledged $10,000 toward the Pontiac tribute sculpture, helping the Woodward Avenue Action Association (which is spearheading the project) meet the $150,000 price tag. Construction is set to begin in late July or early August and complete by the Woodward Dream Cruise.

"Once they break ground it only takes a week or two to install," says Nicole Brown, outreach and promotions coordinator for the Woodward Avenue Action Association.

The non-profit is also finalizing plans for the tribute sculpture in downtown Detroit this spring. Once the location is finalized (near the Spirit of Detroit statue at Woodward and Jefferson avenues) the project will be announced, probably within the next few weeks.

The Woodward Tribute sculptures help raise awareness about the history behind Michigan's Main Street and how important it is to not only the state but the U.S. and the world. The sculptures are normally a robust column a story or two tall that depict part of Woodward's illustrious history.

Ferndale built the first one in its downtown in 2008. More are being planned for other communities along the Woodward corridor.

"We're speaking to several different communities to go forward with a fourth one," Brown says. "This is a great piece of art that helps people see the story of Woodward in an artistic way."

The sculptures are funded by a number of organizations. Those chipping in for the Pontiac sculpture are the Federal Highway Administration National Scenic Byway funds, Oakland County, and Genisys Credit Union.

Source: Nicole Brown, outreach and promotions coordinator for the Woodward Avenue Action Association
Writer: Jon Zemke

Metro Airport installs first wind turbines

Propellers and jet engines aren't the only thing spinning at Metro Airport these days, now that it has installed a half dozen wind turbines.

The $75,000 project put six Windspire turbines at the north and west sides of the airport. These are not your normal wind turbines. They are made in a cylinder, so the blades are vertical. The made-in-Michigan turbines stand 30 feet tall but measure only four feet wide. They will not interfere with air traffic.

"We're trying to stay as low as possible," says Ali Dib, director of facilities for Metro Airport.

The wind turbines harness wind energy at lower speeds (4.5-5 mph). The electricity will help supplement the demands of the airport and will serve as a testing project to see if more are feasible.

"My CEO has advised me that he would like more," Dib says.

Among the other sustainable features at the airport are recycling aircraft de-icing fluids, using old cooking oil from airport concessions for biofuel for airport vehicles, and $1.5 million worth of LED light fixtures (5,000 in total) for taxiway edge lights. Those lights save more than $12 million in energy costs per year compared to the incandescent fixtures they replaced.
 
Metro Airport is also looking at a number of other sustainable projects, such as installing solar panels, green roofs, and gray-water recycling.

Source: Ali Dib, director of facilities for Metro Airport
Writer: Jon Zemke

East Dearborn downtown makes plans for arts district

The East Dearborn Downtown Development Authority is taking steps to set up an arts district in the city's eastern center.

Downtown leaders see the creation of an arts district as an important tool to both help encourage economic development and to raise the quality of life in the city's eastern downtown, which centers around the Michigan Avenue and Schaeffer Road intersection.

"We have so many vacancies downtown," says Melissa Kania, who is spear heading the project for the East Dearborn DDA. "Why not create pop-up galleries? If this building is empty, why not lease it to this artist for a short time and create a gallery?"

That could create more foot traffic for local retail businesses. Local leaders also think it will attract new economy-based entrepreneurs and businesses because the young people behind them often run in the same circles with artists.

The DDA is currently working with Artspace to see if it can create some inexpensive space for artists and other creatively inclined people. One possibility is the former Kroger building, which could serve as a central location for local creatives.

"This is all very conceptual right now," Kania says.

That doesn't mean a good bit of work hasn't gone into it. The DDA recently revealed three sculptures in its downtown to help kick off the effort. The sculptures come from a recent offering of eight pieces from the Midwest Sculpture Initiative. The other five are in Dearborn's western downtown.

Source: Melissa Kania, administrative assistant with the East Dearborn Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Jon Zemke

Downtown Belleville pushes streetscape project forward

Phase 1 of the downtown Belleville streetscape project, done. Phase 2 is underway, while the third and final phase is set to take place this summer.

The hard work is over now that construction crews replaced the sewer and water lines and other infrastructure in the downtown last year as the first phase of the $5.8 million project.

The second phase is to redo the above-ground infrastructure on South Street from Huron River Drive to the railroad tracks and the Fourth Street Square. The final phase, set to begin after the Strawberry Festival in June, will replace Main Street from the Bridge to Huron River Drive. That should wrap up by October.

The above-ground improvements include bigger sidewalks with decorative brick pavers, benches, trash cans, bike racks, and new landscaping. New landscaping, including trees to replace those lost to the Emerald Ash Borer, will also be installed.

No improvements have been made to the downtown streetscape since the early 1990s. An initiative to have the work done via a bond proposal was defeated last year. This new project is coming mainly from the city's coffers.

Source: Diana Kollmeyer, city manager for Belleville
Writer: Jon Zemke

Dearborn switches to single stream recycling

Dearborn will jump into the next level of recycling when the city switches its pick-up system to single-stream.

The City Council approved the switch, which will allow residents to put all of their recycling into one container. It will also allow for more materials to be recycled. City officials expect the current recycling rate of 20-30 percent of waste to double.

"It would be great to see it double," says Dave Norwood, sustainability coordinator for the city of Dearborn. "We did a pilot test area and it doubled."

The city is going from collecting just No. 1-2 plastics to No. 1-7, including the rarely recycled No. 3. It plans to begin disbursing the new recycling containers this week and move forward with the switch in July.

Among the incentives for going single stream are making it easier for residents to use, meaning more is recycled, expansion of the recycling list, and reduced logistical costs.

Among the other cities that use single-stream recycling are Austin, Texas and Baltimore. Ann Arbor made the switch earlier this year.

Source: Dave Norwood, sustainability coordinator for the city of Dearborn
Writer: Jon Zemke

Oakland, Macomb counties push forward green programs

Oakland and Macomb counties are pushing toward a more sustainable government with a recent spate of announcements for environmentally friendly programs. Those programs include a website dedicated to information activities on sustainability, cutting energy costs through efficiency improvements, and challenging local residents and businesses to cut energy use by 10 percent within the next two years.

That last one is called the OakGreen Challenge and was issued by Oakland County Executive L Brooks Patterson just before the county's second annual Green Summit in mid-May.

The program is similar to Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje's Green Energy Challenge. That initiative, announced in 2005, calls for Ann Arbor to use 20 percent green energy by 2010 for municipal operations and by 2015 for the whole city. The city is now on a path to reach 30 percent green energy usage by the end of the year.

Not to be left out of the energy efficiency fun is Macomb County, which recently announced that it has saved taxpayers $44,400 in energy costs through implementing energy efficient improvements. Those savings took place in the first two months of contracting electrical power from First Energy for nine buildings that draw power from its main powerhouse, plus the Administration Building. The savings are projected to hit $600,000 over the next two years.

Macomb County also recently launched Green Macomb, a website dedicated to green initiatives and information. Think of the efforts being undertaken to create everything from energy efficiencies to clean water initiatives.

Source: Oakland and Macomb counties
Writer: Jon Zemke

MDOT to build bike path along I-275

The rehab of seven miles of bike trail along I-275 in Wayne County got underway this week and promises to make alternative transportation along one of the most heavily traveled corridors much easier.

The $4.1 million project will rehab the trail between Hines Drive and Michigan Avenue. The trail was built in the 1970s and hasn't seen any major infrastructure improvements since. Today it suffers from overgrown vegetation, uneven grades, deteriorating bridges, and cracked asphalt.

"It's in poor condition," says Mike Bellini, transportation engineer for the Michigan Department of Transportation. "It gets worse as you go south."

The project, paid for with federal stimulus funds, is divided into three sections. The first (the northernmost section) will rebuild the trail between Hines and Koppernick. All work should be done by mid-October.

New asphalt will be laid and five bridges rebuilt along the route.

Source: Mike Bellini, transportation engineer for the Michigan Department of Transportation
Writer: Jon Zemke

University of Michigan's Five Fellows turn house into public art

Opportunity leads to art in Detroit. In this case, it's a combination of University of Michigan students and Hamtramck's Design99 studio.

Excerpt:

Five University of Michigan architecture fellows, through the help of Design99, purchased the house at 13178 Moran from the city's foreclosure auction for $500 and have turned it into their architectural canvas and a piece of public art for the neighborhood.

Inside you'll find a Q-Bert-esque staircase, a space called the "Tingle Room," another staircase leading up to a skylight, a removable nook in the back, and the garage drilled with 1,000 holes and jammed with 1,000 glass tubes. Each would require more than 1,000 words for explanation.

"We've collaborated but we have five different projects throughout the house," says Ellie Abrons, one of the fellows.

Read the rest of the story here.
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