Design

By Colton Dale

THIS SPRING, THE CITY OF OAK PARK ANNOUNCED that it is moving forward with a concept to maintain and beautify the fencing on the overpass bridge on Coolidge Highway over I-696. The bridge fencing currently is old, mundane, and slightly dilapidated, like most overpass bridges in Michigan. This provides a less-than-stellar image on behalf of Oak Park to the thousands of motorists passing under this bridge every day.

Soon, though, that fencing will become the latest public infrastructure improvement in the City, helping Oak Park with branding, beautification, and its image. When completed, this overpass bridge will be similar to the one in Auburn Hills on University Drive over I-75, if you can picture it.

The project previously faced a funding hurdle, as construction costs continue to rise at a record pace due to labor shortages and federal steel tariffs. These issues caused City officials to take a second look at the plans. They were starting to wonder if it would be worth it to move forward with this project at all. Luckily, though, at the City Council Meeting on March 18, the project overcame its obstacles as City Council voted to fully fund the project and award a bid for construction to Z Contractors Inc. of Shelby Township.

THE ORIGINS OF THIS PROJECT BEGAN in September 2017 and stemmed from a necessity to fix parts of the bridge’s fencing that had become broken and potentially dangerous. It then grew into a desire by City officials to take this opportunity as one to brand and beautify the City via the improvement of public infrastructure. Throughout the unfolding of this concept, it became lumped in with other public infrastructure improvement projects the City has undertaken lately, such as the repainting of the water tower on Eleven Mile Road and the Nine Mile Redesign. The City prides itself on its proactive efforts to improve and modernize the infrastructure we see and use every day.

“Branding is important for our community in terms of attracting new residents and businesses. Taking advantage of this opportunity to create a distinct impression by marketing ourselves to the thousands of motorists who use I-696 every day to commute through Oak Park is a good business move,” said City Manager Erik Tungate. “Cities that take on these kinds of quality of life improvements are cities that are typically thriving. It is no longer enough to rest on our laurels. We have to seize every chance we can to establish ourselves as a unique place to live and work.”

The project will cost approximately $628,000, with the vast majority being funded by the City’s Major Streets Fund. The project is broken down into two phases. The first phase is the fabrication of the metal design, which is expected to take about two months. Shortly thereafter, the second phase will begin, which is the construction phase to affix the fabricated metal design onto the overpass bridge, expected to begin mid-summer.

MOTORISTS CAN EXPECT MINOR LANE CLOSURES DURING THE WORK to affix the metal fabrication to the bridge, potentially on both Coolidge Highway and I-696. All lane closures will be communicated out by the City.

“Now, when travelers pass under Coolidge on I-696, what they see is barren-looking cyclone fencing. Soon this entryway to the City of Oak Park will look inviting with an attractive new fencing design and lights,” said Mayor Marian McClellan.

“Just as realtors stress the importance of curb appeal when selling a house because of the importance of a good first impression, the City will be making a great first impression on passers-by, visitors, and potential residents.”

If all goes as planned, the project is anticipated to wrap up in the Fall.

Note: Due to some confusion, it is important to note that this is an entirely separate overpass bridge than the one with Victoria Park on it that the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) will be replacing in 2024 due to leaks. ■

By Ingrid Sjostrand

Photos By Brita Brookes

MANY RESIDENTS PROBABLY DON’T REALIZE THAT OAK PARK IS HOME to one of the most internationally-recognizable creative collaboratives.

Through many different iterations and rebrandings since the 1970s – including General Television Network and most recently Ringside Creative – the address of 13320 Northend, off Coolidge Hwy between 8 and 9 Mile, houses the creative media company now known as Cutters Studios.

Steven Wild, CEO of Cutters Studios Detroit, provides an explanation of services they offer.

“Our skilled staff provide a wide range of creative and technical media content creation and delivery services to advertising agencies, businesses (including education and government) and the sports/entertainment industry,” he says. “We offer concept through delivery. Some examples include traditional broadcast advertising accounts; new digital media marketing (including apps, web, point-of-purchase, digital signage); documentary production; sports and other live event coverage; broadcast studio ‘live shot’ services for local, regional, national and international news organizations; high-speed/high-resolution photo imaging for automotive and other technology testing and analysis.”

Cutters Studios is made up of six brands, including Ringside Creative which was absorbed in April 2017 when Cutters took over the Oak Park office. Ringside Creative is best known for running sound stages and handling technical services for on-site production and videos. Other Cutters brands include Cutters Editorial, Flavor Design, Another Country, Dictionary Films and Picnic.

“Our Cutters Studios brands are all headquartered in our Oak Park office; however, our services are provided on location throughout the world depending on the project. We also maintain sound stages in Ann Arbor, Southfield, and Detroit,” Wild says. “Our partners, Cutters, Inc., maintain their primary office in Chicago, and have satellite facilities in Tokyo, Los Angeles, New York City, and Kansas City.”

Businesses both throughout the United States and internationally are clients of Cutters Studios Detroit, including many Fortune 500 companies. Cutters has received many national and international creative awards. Some of their more considerable projects include Super Bowl commercials and work for the United Services Automobile Association (USAA) that’s received award recognition.

“We service hundreds of clients in Detroit and throughout the Midwest, including all major automotive manufacturers directly, along with their advertising and marketing agencies and suppliers,” Wild says. “Additionally, other large and small businesses, advertising/marketing companies, and sports teams including the Detroit Tigers, Lions and Red Wings.”

Even with renowned success and opportunities around the world, Cutters Studios is happy to call Oak Park home and has a laundry list of reasons why it’s the best place to headquarter their business.

“Our commitment to Oak Park has been maintained over the years for a multitude of reasons, including the irreplaceable facility improvements we’ve made over the past 40 years, our expansive dedicated parking lot, reasonable taxes and strong support from local government agencies – building, fire, etc. – along with a desirable central location convenient to access highways to Detroit, the airport, in-state clients and service locations, and those out-of-state including Ohio, Indiana, Illinois,” Wild says. “We’re proud to be part of the Oak Park community and appreciate the opportunity to continue our support.”

0 300

By Mary Meldrum

MY BOYFRIEND (WHO IS A BUILDER) AND I HAVE BEEN BUILDING a pretty incredible garage on the back lot of our property in Berkley. We take pictures at each phase of the project. No loans or mortgage so this is an out-of-pocket project that proceeds as we get the money.

This is a 1,600-square-foot building with an 800-square-foot footprint, the size of a three-car garage, with a full apartment above. Dirt had to be brought in for the foundation to raise the elevation. The first load of lumber and materials was dropped off and Brian got busy putting together the pieces for the framing of the walls on the first floor.

In the spring, scaffolding was erected, and the roof and cedar shingles for the siding were placed painstakingly one at a time by Brian.

This is pretty much what it looks like currently. A lot of small things have happened inside, like the furnace, drywall on all surfaces upstairs and downstairs, formal stairs and risers leading upstairs, exterior lights, window trim and other details. The apartment bathroom has been tiled and the lights are hung. All inspections have passed with flying colors.

Brian pushed a project boat into the garage for the Winter and is working on restoring an old Formula speed boat. That will be ready to put in the water this Spring. Work on the garage continues. When it is finished (probably another year or two), we plan to move into the apartment and start working on our house.

0 296

By Fiona Garlow, Property Solvers

THIS BEAUTIFULLY RENOVATED HOME HAD ITS HUMBLE BEGINNINGS back in 1926, when it was one of the first houses on the block. You would think after all that time this house would’ve changed ownership many times, but in fact only two families have owned it. After three generations ownership changed in 2017.

Originally built as a five-bedroom, one bathroom house, it no longer met today’s standards. Three bedrooms located on the second floor have been changed to a large master suite with a modern bathroom and walk-in closet.

The main floor also went through changes. Dividing walls between living room and dining room, and between dining room and kitchen, were all removed in order to create a large open floor plan.

 

By creating a large master suite and removing the partition walls on the main floor, the house has become more functional. Allowing light through the entire house and improving sociability, it has become a home perfect for entertaining and family communication. Having an appreciation for the times by which the house came from, it still has its craftsman-style interior. Updated with large window, door, and baseboard trim, along with its tall ceilings, the house can’t help but make you feel grand.

 

By Ingrid Sjostrand

IT MIGHT BE HARD TO BELIEVE A CITY THE SIZE OF HAZEL PARK –ONLY 2.8 SQUARE MILES – HAS 12 PARKS WITHIN ITS LIMITS. Even more surprising is that among those parks are a BMX course, dog park, two community gardens, and an art park.

These 12 parks are maintained by a small recreation department led by Sareen Papakhian, Recreation Director and assistant planner. Papakhian describes their mission as “to enrich the lives of Hazel Park residents by providing quality park and recreation facilities, green spaces, programs, and services to the community.”

Their responsibilities expand far beyond just park maintenance, including everything from managing programming for seniors and children, coordinating many of the City’s annual events and renting community center space for activities and classes.

“We oversee senior programming, a congregate meal program for seniors, we provide senior event planning and a space for seniors to congregate in the evenings,” Papakhian says. “But, most importantly, we handle senior transportation and that’s in collaboration with SMART.”

“Beyond that, we also provide recreation and youth programming for residents and non-residents. That includes a summer camp program called Kids Camp and various sports leagues – our largest activity true to Hazel Park is baseball.”

The Recreation Department oversees eight annual events, and will be adding a ninth on August 4th with their Family Fun event in collaboration with Oakland County Parks. Other events include the Daddy Daughter Dance in February and Earth Day celebration and annual Spring Clean Up with the Department of Public Works in April.

“Our largest special event we held over Memorial Day weekend, the Hazel Park Memorial Festival,” Papakhian says. “Skerbeck Family Carnival from Escanaba comes down and helps us out with that. There’s also a refreshment tent taken care of by the Hazel Park Lions Club.”

Papakhian has been director of the Recreation department since 2014. She has her master’s degree in urban planning from Wayne State University, and also acts as assistant city planner aiding in economic development and coding enforcement.

IN HER FOUR YEARS WITH THE RECREATION DEPARTMENT, Papakhian has been working tirelessly to improve the quality of Hazel Park’s green areas through new initiatives like the tree planting program. “This was our first tree planting in over a decade, in partner-ship with ReLeaf Michigan. As a pilot program they gave us double the amount of trees, and we were able to plant 20; 16 in Scout Park and four in Karam Park, in and outside the dog park,” she says. “That was a big accomplishment for me because I love trees, and we are in dire need of increasing tree canopy within the parks and the city.”

In addition to the tree planting program, the Parks and Recreation Department has been replacing and re-purposing playground and park equipment.

“Our five-year plan would be to provide new park equipment for our parks in the city. Our parks are in dire need of new equipment, and what we’ve done for a few decades has been to maintain that equipment,” Papakhian says. “My number one goal as Director is to replace equipment as best we can through fundraising, reaching out to businesses in town which I’ve been able to do during my tenure.”

These fundraising efforts have resulted in $5,000 solicited for new baseball pitching machines, a playscape sourced for Scout Park at no cost to taxpayers, a partnership with the United States Tennis Association with a $25,000 grant for new tennis courts at Hazel Park High School and another playscape installed at Karam Park through the assistance of matching grants from playground company GameTime.

“Additionally, a family that provided many generations of civic betterment to Hazel Park donated a fitness park within Green Acres Park,” Papakhian adds. “From what I know that’s the first fitness park in a public park in the region. We also have a bike pump station there and planted a tree there in memoriam to that family.”

While the Recreation Department is doing great work with what they have, they still see the struggles of a small staff and an even smaller budget. Papakhian is the only full-time employee, working with the assistance of just a part-time office employee, sports and camp supervisors, three drivers and three building attendants. There is also a Recreation Advisory board of six members that meet bi-monthly to review and approve projects.

“We try to do what we can with what we have. The main struggle is the cost of everything – that’s our number one detriment.” Papakhian says.

“Personally, I think we’ve done a great job of being resourceful. My staff is the hardest-working part-time staff I’ve ever seen in my life. I’m proud of what we do here.”

PAPAKHIAN SEES THE WORK ETHIC OF HER STAFF reflected in the residents of Hazel Park every day, and that volunteers who help with park clean up and community gardens are just as important to the success of the Recreation Department.

“Hazel Park is a city of fighters. I don’t know any other city that has done what Hazel Park can do with what we have. I’m proud to work for a city of fighters and proud to work with the residents of Hazel Park,” She says. “Anytime a resident wants to clean a park we would support that endeavor in any way we possibly can.”

By R. Ennis

GETTING A NEW BUSINESS OFF THE GROUND CAN BE CHALLENGING. You may face problems with finding a good location, remodeling that space to fit your needs, and securing the right staff to help you run it. Even after you have surpassed all those hurdles, you still may encounter another obstacle: Coming up with the appropriate signage and graphics for drawing in the public.

Meet J. D. Bayer—who, together with his ATS Signs Partner Steve Corby, can help you spread the word about your products and services. Bayer has been working in the fields of videography, photography, and graphic design for over 15 years. His more recent experiences as a sign designer brought him to the attention of Corby, who hired him to enhance the graphics for Corby’s Anything That Ships (ATS) Store. Impressed with Bayer’s work, Corby suggested that combining their know-how would benefit others.

“I designed the sign atop the building, the window and van logos, and the banner in front of the counter,” Bayer says about the Hazel Park site. During the time he set about those tasks, “Steve and I talked about how our businesses complement each other quite well. We saw how we can offer everything a new business needs to promote itself.”

Corby opened his Anything That Ships Store about a year ago. The expansion of the space to include ATS Signs occurred about two months ago. To let the community know about the broader range of ATS services, they literally took to the Hazel Park streets and
approached local business owners about working with them to find solutions for meeting their advertising goals.

BAYER AND CORBY HAVE ALSO FOUND WAYS to promote their services in-house.

When people come in to ship things,” Bayer says, “we might ask them whether (the packages) are for a business. If they answer ‘yes,’ the conversation moves forward from there.”

The strategies have helped to keep Bayer busy with many projects. His clients include Sneaker Pimp, a local high-end athletic wear company, and Robertson Custom Painting in Madison Heights, specializing in painting residential properties, for whom he created both its business cards and yard signs. Presently, he is making enticing graphics for Universal Jewelry & Loan in Hazel Park.

In the meantime, you can visit www.theatsstore.com for more information on ATS and its full line of printing, packaging, and shipping services:• Digital printing, copying, and finishing services:

• Mail box services
• Packaging, shipping & receiving
• Moving supplies & packaging materials
• Additional products & services – faxing, key cutting, notary, document design (such as invitations), etc.

If signage is what you want, Bayer encourages you to contact him, or stop in to his office at ATS and discuss how he can develop materials well-suited for marketing your business. Even if your advertisement ideas are beyond his immediate scope of expertise and cannot be produced at the shop — LED signs, for example, and other dynamic displays — he says he will do the research and collaborate with other designers to make them happen.

“Our goal is to be the place to go to for your media needs.”

By Andrea Grieg
Photo by Bernie Laframboise

WETMORE’S AUTO REPAIR HAS THE MOST RECOGNIZABLE BUILDING IN FERNDALE. Located on the corner of Woodward and Drayton, the blue brick building features interesting architecture, large vintage signs, giant windows, and a Daffodil Yellow 1963 Chrysler soaring out of the top of the building.

It is impossible to miss.

Around the time of Wetmore’s grand opening, local garages were spending small fortunes on eye-catching balloons and banners for roadside attention. Wetmore’s original owner Roy C. Wetmore found a permanent, and incredibly unique, form of advertising. A junked Wills Saint Claire originally adorned the building, with the front wheels spinning on a belt-system showing a permanent wheel wobble, the shop’s specialty. The wheels were painted with a white stripe to accentuate the wobbling. Although the car has been blamed for a few fender benders on Woodward, the tradition has stayed for almost 90 years. The Wills Saint Claire has been replaced four times with a 1940s Buick, a Hudson (which was protested by the Hudson Motor Car Company executives), a 1949 Lincoln, and finally the current empty-bodied Chrysler which made its debut in 1966.

The car isn’t the most interesting part of the garage though. The building’s architecture was inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright. In the 1940’s, Mr. Wetmore’s daughter dated a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. This led to Wright and Wetmore’s introduction. Wright designed a sketch of his vision for the business, and it still included a car flying off the roof. The office area was built to Wright’s designs; however, the rest of the plans were discarded after disagreements between Wright and Wetmore.

WETMORE STARTED THE BUSINESS IN 1928, and sold it on a Land contract in 1969. The land contract was forfeited, and Wetmore sold the business to the current owner, Chris Lynch, and his father Bud in 1975. While the shop originally specialized in alignment and frame work, the Lynch’s grew their scope to include wheels, tires, and most general repairs.

Currently, Wetmore’s employs 12 ASE-certified mechanics, and the shop boasts Ferndale’s best tire inventory of used and OEM tires available. Customers can shop the tire selection on the Wetmore web site.

The Wetmore web site also features an innovative self-diagnosis tool, with which customers can look up their vehicle by year, make, and model. Customers can then look up their specific issue by the sound, feeling, sight, or smell, with very specific descriptions for each possible problem. The self-diagnosis tool gives customers direct feedback of problem possibilities, with an option for the shop to call for further assistance.

“It is great owning a business in Ferndale,” Chris Lynch says. “The people and community keeps us going.” Wet-more’s is open Monday through Friday 8:00 AM – 6:00 PM, and Saturdays 8:00 AM – 2:00 PM at 23459 Woodward Avenue. Visit www.wetmorestireandautorepair.com for more information about their work, their history, and for customer coupons.

By David Ryals

SANDA COOK’S PAINTING IS INFLUENCED BY THE BEAUTIFUL LANDSCAPES AND ARCHITECTURE OF HER NATIVE ROMANIA. She studied art at the Brasor School of Arts, and her travels throughout Europe, Japan, and the U. S. have given her work a unique perspective and style. Cook has shown her work extensively in Metro Detroit, including exhibits at the Scarab Club, River’s Edge Gallery, Downriver Council of the Arts, Carr Center for the Arts, Detroit Artist Market, Grosse Point Art Center, Ariana Gallery, 4731 Studio, and the Padzieski Art Gallery. Here in Ferndale, she’s recently had showings at Level 1, the Conserva, and M Contemporary.

In an exclusive interview with Ferndale Friends she said, “Art for me is a way of being alive, of connecting myself to the mysteries of the universe, nature, and the magnificent human soul.”

Though she has lived and studied abroad, she has settled into Detroit and considers it her permanent home. The city has adopted her and vice versa.

“I’ve loved teach painting classes at my studio in Hamtramck over the last few years, and a couple of my students are selling art and showing in galleries after just a little over a year of taking my monthly classes. I am so proud of them, and I am happy to inspire others. I also do individual art classes. I love to give back and help with my art donations. This year will be my third year of supporting the Matrix Foundation, and I have painted two Little Free Libraries in the last two years. One is in front of Belle Isle Conservatory, and the other will be in Berkley in front of the beautiful art store, Vitrine Gallery & Gifts.”

Her travels have inspired her art in lots of different ways. “I love to travel and explore the cultures and people of different countries. I am a U.S. citizen, and very thankful to live in a country with such great opportunities. Romania is my birth country, and growing up I enjoyed the outdoors and nature after school with my watercolor supplies. I started to paint at ten. Both places, Romania and Michigan, have their unique beauty. I love to capture in my watercolors or canvasses the beauty of places and people. Each country has its particular energy, traditions, and beauty and I love to immortalize. I take my sketchbook and water-colors everywhere to make sure I don’t miss any opportunities.”

ALONG WITH PAINTING, Sanda is a tarot card and palm reader. “When I was 27, I too a class reading palms and tarot. I worked from 2004-2009 for Cosmic Eyes in Wyandotte and from 2012-2017 at the wonderful Boston Tea Room in Ferndale.

The subjects of her work are bent towards nature and the cosmos. She explained what draws her to these subjects: “Nature is pure beauty. Mother Earth is so loving and generous with humans. I love the art of Vincent Van Gogh, Georgia O’ Keefe, Frida Kahlo, and Jackson Pollock. When I walk into the forest, I feel home. It is pure, it is peace, it is magical. I feel the same swimming or being next to the water.”

By Mary Meldrum

Get ready for a brand-new Nine Mile! One of Oak Park’s major thoroughfares is about to undergo a major makeover.

The Nine Mile Redesign project was borne from the leadership change and a paradigm shift in the Oak Park City government’s focus that began in 2011, following an economic recession that almost bankrupted
the City. One big change came in 2014 when the City hired Kimberly Marrone, Economic Development &
Communications Director. Marrone explained the objectives and the progress of Oak Park’s Nine Mile Redesign project:

“My role in the City is for economic development, so we want to attract new businesses and retain the businesses we currently have in the city as well as help them grow and expand,” says Marrone. She is part of an Oak Park government leadership that has implemented service-oriented and pro-growth policies. These policies are gaining momentum – funding and creating an impact for the city’s future.

In 2014, a Strategic Economic Development Plan was adopted by the Oak Park City Council. The plan outlined action steps to assist in sparking additional economic development to Oak Park. Marrone discusses the growing evidence that providing places to walk and bicycle is a successful strategy for maintaining and restoring economic vitality. Indeed, there is solid research that supports the connection between pedestrian-friendly environments and economic viability.

Major firms around the country are beginning to loudly advocate for pedestrian, bike and transit-friendly development patterns. And they are voting for these changes with their walking boots on, relocating to city centers that are a better fit for their business, their ideals, and for their employees. Booming business centers like Atlanta and the Silicon Valley are showing how an over-dependence on the car can stall economic development. Businesses are increasingly concerned with lengthy commutes, gridlock, lack of transportation choices, air pollution, and the overall decline in quality of life that can make recruiting and retaining skilled workers difficult.

According to the 1997 Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, the number and location of open space/parks/recreation ranks high among factors used by small businesses in choosing a new business location. According to a 1998 analysis by ERE Yarmouth and Real Estate Research Corporation, real estate values over the next 25 years will rise fastest in “smart communities” that incorporate a pedestrian and bike-friendly configuration.

Road Diet
A study conducted for the City in 2015 with grant money showed it was feasible to redesign Nine Mile Road with a so-called “street diet.” The road will be reduced from five to three lanes, and the City will create linear parks, additional parking, bike lanes and streetscape amenities, a known formula to spur economic development.

“Businesses want to know if they can be successful here in Oak Park. They want to locate into a community that people are attracted to live in,” says Marrone. Oak Park and surrounding communities have seen a steady demand for homes and an uptick in median home prices over the past several years, making Oak Park an attractive place for businesses to settle in and grow.

Reducing traffic noise, traffic speeds, and vehicle-generated air pollution will increase property values. Adding green space, parks and public gathering places are multipliers in the property value equation. One study found that a five-to-ten mile-per-hour reduction in traffic speeds increased adjacent residential property values by roughly 20 per cent.

“We applied, jointly with Ferndale, for the grant from MDOT last spring and received notice in September of 2017 that they would partially fund the project. The total project cost is roughly $1.4 million. We received a grant award from SEMCOG and from MDOT in the amount of $983,826. This would require a 30 per cent match from the cities,” shares Marrone.

In 2018, The City of Oak Park will finalize road plans for Nine Mile, solicit bids this Spring. The City will add bike lanes and redesign the parking starting in late Spring or early Summer. The majority of the work is repainting of lines with minimal actual road construction.

Nine Mile Road was developed before I-696 was finished, and now carries much less traffic as it once did. In fact, the car count is roughly 17,000 cars per day now, making it a “tired” street with too many lanes. People drive past businesses on Nine Mile without noticing them. A road diet would slow the traffic and improve safety, allowing businesses to enjoy a spark of additional success, as well as fill vacant storefronts.

In the 1970s and 1980s, there was a push to move away from downtown areas, like Detroit. That movement has recently reversed, and there is a shift to embrace downtown density again in most communities. Oak Park’s Nine Mile Redesign project is quickly getting traction to promote a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly downtown area by addressing traffic issues, greenway development, and density.

Pocket Parks
Oak Park residents were interested in creating space where people could gather. As part of the Nine Mile Redesign project, a park was tested with the Sherman Summer Pop-Up Park in 2017. The City closed about 100 feet of Sherman Street.

In June, and put in tables, chairs, games, activities and programming. Sometimes they held scheduled musical entertainment, exercise classes, art and STEAM programs from the Oak Park Library and Recreation Department. Sherman Street residents were asked for input and invited to help create the space. In feedback following the pop-up park, 83 per cent of survey responses said they were in favor of the permanent park. The City applied for, and received, a grant from Oakland County.

“We went to great lengths to take into consideration the wishes of the community and to ensure that the needs of the residents were being met,” said City Manager Erik Tungate.

For the Nine Mile Redesign, the engineering firm suggested closing three streets at Nine Mile Road to create pocket parks. The City decided to close only two, Sherman and Seneca.

When people on Seneca were approached, most were happy about it. Of those with reservations, they expressed worry that emergency vehicle access would be impeded to homes and businesses; that school buses might not be able to travel the street; and questions on whether the park could invite crime to the area. Not one item went missing from the temporary pop-up park; creating more of a crowd typically creates less crime. The Public Safety Department reported that emergency vehicle and bus access was not impeded, and noise and vandalism was not an issue.

Bringing people together has long been known to produce economic value. Population density creates and increases social capital and economic opportunity. Social capital has value in fellowship, shared information and common goals; it thrives in communities that provide platforms and places for people to come together to shop and share their knowledge and information, while collaborating and socializing. Social capital allows people to become invested in the outcome of their neighborhoods, and economic capital to flourish.

“When talking to new potential businesses about locating in Oak Park, they become very excited about the vision and plans we have, specifically for the Nine Mile Redesign Project,” says Marrone.

By David Ryals

CATHLEEN RUTSY RECALLED THE TEAM’S ORIGINS WITH JOY. “The Ferndale High School robotics team, IMPI Robotics, was founded in 2007, with its first competition during the 2008 season. Some of the mentors were working with a Royal Oak team, and the teacher mentor let us know that the 2007 season would be his last. We had nine seniors on the team qualify for FIRST scholarships! (FIRST, a robotics program founded by Dean Kamen, stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.”)

Ferndale also had a team that folded, so we approached the school about a mixed team of Ferndale and Royal Oak students. They supported the idea from the beginning, giving us the closed wood shop room to build in. Royal Oak has since restarted a team, so IMPI Robotics has only Ferndale students now.”

Though the team had a lot of support from the beginning, the transitions made involved far-reaching challenges. Rutsy said, “We were also working with a group in South Africa. We would brainstorm, design, and build identical robots at each location. For the championship event in 2008, ten students traveled to the U.S. from South Africa. Our South African students asked for a team name that would represent their country, so we picked IMPI Robotics. “Impi” is a Zulu word for an armed body of men; in this case, armed with technology and we have young women.

During the economic downturn, the South African team folded, but the students still keep in touch to this day, even traveling to South Africa and Europe to meet. When one of our original students married, her husband secretly invited the South African students, and they traveled to the US to surprise her.”

Through all its challenges, competitions and collaborations, the team has consistently stayed true to its initial aim. Rutsky said, “the main aim of the team has always been to wage a war on technology illiteracy through FIRST robotics’.” But the team has other objectives such as: supporting local charities, encouraging students into STEM careers, obtaining additional corporate sponsorship in an effort to attract more minority and disadvantaged students, start FTC (First Tech Challenge) teams, and get additional mentors. The team has received 501(c)3 status and our main objective never changes but the team evaluates which objectives have been met and identifies new objectives on a yearly basis.”

The standards and work-load has only gotten higher for the team. Rutsky said, “The students perform demonstrations – one for Governor Snyder at his Economic and Education Summit, help mentor FLL and FTC teams in the district, have a student-run team for Relay for Life, have volunteered for the annual Ferndale Clean-Up and the Rainbow Run, to name a few of their achievements.”

The team has been able to support and stabilize their burgeoning growth through a few different avenues. Rutsky said, “All of our engineering mentors are unpaid volunteers because our companies realize that the best way to get STEM employees is to ‘grow’ them. Our companies give the team both financial support and the engineers time off to run the team. In just mentor time alone, the value to the school district is about $250 thousand per year. Over the years we have increased our sponsor support. FCA, Ford, IBM, Schaeffler, and Hydro are our main corporate sponsors, which is how the team is funded. We regularly ask our sponsors, parents and community for more mentors.”

With all of the hard work and dedication of the team Ferndale High’s robotics team is beyond bright. Of its future plans and aspirations, she said, “Our students have already shown that they will continue to do good in the community, so all of the things they are already doing such as charity work, demonstrations, and mentoring will continue. In addition, the students are starting an FLL (First Lego League) team in Ghana, arranging a STEM “science fair” for the high school, and working toward increased underrepresented student involvement. I’m sure the students will come up with other good ideas – they are so proactive and are always thinking. And they have a great awareness of community.”

www.firstinspires.org/robotics/frc