December 11, 2013 - Plans between Oxford Community Schools and Weiming Education Group (WEG) for international student housing are moving forward after a recent trip to China by Superintendent Dr. William Skilling.
Skilling who spent a week in China from Nov. 17-24 met with the Weiming executive team to discuss conceptual plans for the International Student Center.
"We spent a day just doing that work and then I brought that back to our architectural team in the U.S. to make revisions based upon Weiming's input and recommendations," Skilling said. "It was really more tweaking the concept plans. Part of it was reducing some of the square footage, getting the cost down some and trying to figure out a way to phase it so there isn't all this overhead and space that's not being occupied (in the beginning.)"
The plans were drawn by IDS (Integrated Design Solutions), an architectural firm out of Troy, which is the same firm OCS used for their last bond project.
"They specialize in residential housing," Skilling said. "They've built a lot of residential dorms for University of Michigan, Michigan State, Central Michigan University and many other colleges and universities, so they have a lot of experience to do this kind of work."
Even though the facility to be built is being paid for by WEG , Skilling said they had to have a United States architectural firm draw up the plans because Weiming's architects are not licensed to do design work in the U.S.
"We have different laws and different requirements, different standards (for building,) he explained. "However, we are working in close collaboration between our architect and their facilities planner."
What is the conceptual plan?
The project, which was originally proposed to be built on high school property where the baseball practice fields are currently, is now being moved to vacant land that sits between OHS and the back of Miejer grocery store. While that 56.38 parcel is proposed to have 396 apartments and condos built on it by land owner's Burton-Katzman, Skilling said Burton-Katzman is possibly looking to donate 13 acres of that property to OCS, but that agreement has not officially been made yet.
"They (Burton-Katzman) would also be the builders of the facility," he added. (The reason we decided not to put it on school property is because it would be) less disruptive to existing use of school property for athletic practice fields."
The scope of the project has also changed from just one residential hall housing 200 international students to two residential halls to house over 500 students. The concept plan, subject to change currently calls for a two to three phase project.
The first phase will include a three story, three wing residential facility for 252 students. "Initially, in the first phase we will not build out all of the dorm rooms," Skilling said. "But use some of that space for a dining hall and classrooms, because we wouldn't have 252 students the year it opens up."
He also noted that not all students will be attending Oxford High School, either.
"We have other schools in northern Oakland County that are interested in hosting international students," he said. "Even though they'll be residing in our student center they will be transported to other school districts."
The second phase will be a student center where official dining, common and classroom areas will be built.
"It will be a building that will be separated by a walkway between the residential facility and the student center," Skilling said. "We are also looking at having our virtual school there and an exercise room."
Even though the property if donated would be school owned, Skilling said both the buildings and land would be taxable.
"Any portion leased to Weiming for facilities may be taxable," he said. However, he did note that he would have to verify to make sure.
Oxford Township Assessor Jeff Pattison confirmed.
"If the property is used for non-exempt purposes it could be on the assessment role," Pattison said. "For example, the City of Lathrup had (their) city hall on the assement roll because of leased offices. That portion of the building used for non-exempt purposes we put on the roll."
The student center is being designed around the "concept of community," according to Skilling.
"One of the things that is important to Weiming is that the community also has the ability to get use of the facilities and provide services to the community, such as Mandarin Chinese language classes, cultural classes and things like that," he said. "One of the things we're going to focus on is having programming in the facilities with our students along with the Chinese students, activities and so forth. (Also) part of the land will be developed with outdoor activity stations so we can have intramural sports and things like that."
The final phase will be the second residential hall, which will be a "mirror image of the first one with another 252 students."
"We'll look to work with our food service program to probably cater the meals either onsite or at the school or both," noted Skilling.
Though other news sources have reported that the facility is strictly for Chinese students, Skilling said that is not true.
"Weiming has agreed to allow other international students make use of the facility. We're planning on having students from Mexico and Russia, which is another area (we're trying to) expand to," he added. "We don't want to limit to any one country, the more diverse of international students the better."
"It's all over the gamut right now," Skilling said. "I hate to put a number out there right now."
However, he estimated the first phase would cost around $10 million and all three phases to cost approximately $20 million.
"We're hoping to be at a design point this coming January where we will have an accurate cost estimate to build, operational expenses and schematic drawings," he added. "The Weiming will make the decision whether to try get it on a faster track to open in 2015 or 2016 at that point."
"Overall I am really pleased with how things are progressing. The architectural firm IDS is really outstanding, Chuck Lewis and Katie Litwin (of IDS) are doing a great job and are a great team," Skilling said. "We've been really impressed with the work IDS has done for us in the schools and I'm equally impressed with the work they're doing now for our residential facilities. I know Weiming is extremely pleased as well in how quickly they've (IDS) been able to put a concept together."
Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.