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2011: a look back at the good and bad

December 28, 2011

An earth mover tries to keep up with the debris produced by StreetScape. Photo by G. Ouzounian
By Joe St. Henry

Review Editor

2012 and the end-of-the-world is right around the corner, just ask the Mayans.

So, for posterity's sake, it is time to look back at the significant news items and personalities that made 2011 what it was in Lake Orion.

Maybe historians digging around The Review office decades from now will find this issue and see what life was like back in the day when construction ruled the streets, a dragon ruled the summer and the economy continued to rule our schools, township and lives.

This week, we look back at the first six months of headlines that grabbed our attention:

January 5

Warm running weather – A record 255 people participated in the 11th annual New Year's Resolution Run in the village of Lake Orion. The large turnout was attributed in part to unseasonably warm weather, which was 52 degrees on New Year's morning.

Thrown into the fire – New school Superintendent Marion Ginopolis wasted little time after joining the district to meet community leaders and focus on challenging budget planning during 2011, as well as a special school improvement bond vote in February.

January 12

Open for business – Some 50 new businesses were locating to Orion Township, bringing an estimated 600-700 jobs, according to Township Supervisor Matt Gibb. This included a mix of recreational, service and industrial entities. Gibb attributed this interest to the township's new "business-friendly" attitude toward new ventures to the area.

Gingell elected – Lake Orion's Michael J. Gingell was elected the newest Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners, with a unanimous vote from his peers. Gingell, 39, was first elected as an Oakland County Commissioner for District 3 (Orion Township, Village of Lake Orion and Oakland Township) in 2006.

January 19

School cuts discussed – The Lake Orion Community Schools' Board of Education began its evaluation of instructional expenses and stated employees' "salary and benefits" would be scrutinized. Superintendent Ginopolis said the goal is to make reductions that have the least impact on students.

Village expenses evaluated, too – The Village of Lake Orion also would be making budget cuts due to the rapidly changing economic climate. A special budget committee, including John Ranville and Mike Toth, was formed. Ranville said the goal is to make cuts, but still maintain the village's parks, employees and services it offers to residents.

January 26

Community center policies – With the new "senior/community center" scheduled to be completed by June 1, Township Supervisor Gibb told the board it needs to determine a number of policies as soon as possible.

Substation sharing nixed – A plan to combine the command staff for Oxford's police operation with the Orion substation that houses Oakland County Sheriff's deputies was killed by the Oxford Township treasurer. The sharing of staff would have saved Orion Township $41,000.

February 2

Stepping down – School Board Trustee Bob Gritzinger announced he is leaving the position when his term expires later in the year. He spent 12 years on the board, but cited a new position at work, his desire to spend time with family and other interests as factors in his decision.

Stepping up – Gritzinger's position would be one of five up for grabs in the May board of education election. Current board members Janet Wolverton and Kelly Weaver said they planned to run for four-year terms, with colleague Steven Drakos seeking a two-year term. Three other candidates entered the fray: Terrie Campbell, Birgit McQuiston and Melissa Miller, each seeking a four-year term.

Drug raid – Lake Orion police working with Oakland County Sheriff's deputies discovered evidence of a possible marijuana growing operation in the village. Their search resulted in the seizure of 84 plants in various stages of growth. There was no evidence anybody lived there.

February 9

Bond issue debated – Voters for and against the upcoming $25.5 million school bond raised their rhetoric to new levels. The Orion Township clerk's office reported some 1,900 voters had already requested absentee ballots. If the bond passes, the bulk of it - $14.1 million – will be allocated toward technology upgrades.

State of the Township – During a presentation at the King's Court in Olde World Canterbury Village, Township Supervisor Gibb detailed the state of Orion Township, highlighting the construction of the new senior/community center, amphitheater and new water tower, as well as new businesses moving to the area, the GM plant reopening and expanded community events.

Scholarship signings – A total of 12 student-athletes from Lake Orion High School officially committed to playing college football, soccer and softball during a Feb. 4 signing ceremony. After being introduced by administrators and coaches, the students simultaneously signed their letters of intent to play for teams in Michigan and elsewhere.

February 16

Ginopolis asked to stay – The Lake Orion Community Schools Board of Education voted unanimously to invite Interim Superintendent Marion Ginopolis to stay with the district for two more years. After an abbreviated search process, the board agreed it was in the district's best interest to take advantage of Ginopolis' background and understanding of the its schools, rather than pursue others.

February 23

Voters reject school bond – A total of 7,126 voters in the Lake Orion Community Schools district cast their ballots for the $23.5 million school bond election and 55 percent said "No". The township clerk said the voter turnout was unusually high for a school-related election, with more than 25 percent of the eligible voters showing up at precincts. Nearly a third cast absentee ballots.

Bank robber uses fake bomb – A 40-year old Oakland Township man robbed the Charter One Bank located inside the Kroger grocery store on Lapeer Road, threatening the teller with what turned out to be a fake bomb. A bank employee recognized the man, however, and Oakland County Sheriff's deputies arrested him less than three hours later.

March 2

Lake Orion's Got Talent – Good Shepherd Lutheran Church hosted auditions of talented members of the community for a fundraiser benefiting 1,000 Conversations for Mental Health. Twelve people were chosen to compete in the finals two weeks later in the high school's Performing Arts Theatre. The grand prize winner would earn $1,000.

Friendship Park bills not friendly – Orion Township officials discovered they were paying Guardian Alarm for a fire suppression system at Friendship Park that needed repair. More disturbing was the discovery that the alarm company was charging the township for a separate surveillance system on a facility that was not there. It was determined the fire system was not needed and removed.

Cheerleaders head to state finals – Lake Orion High School's varsity cheer team placed first in the 2011 East Regional Competitive Cheer Championship Competition. The victory sent the team to the state finals in Grand Rapids. Coach Nancy DeAvila said the strengths of the team were its "extreme" coachability and unity.

March 9

A first look at State Education Act – Lake Orion's Board of Education got its first look at Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder's budget proposal with changes to education funding, and realized they have a lot of questions. District administers feared the plan would mean fewer dollars from the state – a reduction of $708 in per pupil spending.

Disappointed but not defeated – Schools Superintendent Ginopolis thanked supporters of the recent bond election, but gave a "thumbs down" to critics of the district administrators, school board, teachers and schools. She was particularly incensed with the dissemination of erroneous information by the Taxpayer's Alliance group that opposed the bond.

March 16

Streetscape underway – After delays, complications and year-long debate, the Streetscape construction project in downtown Lake Orion finally started. Workers began marking utilities and other amenities hidden beneath Broadway and Flint Streets, with plans to begin sawing into road and sidewalk.

Candidates sound off – The 14 candidates vying for five seats on the schools' Board of Education gave their rationales for how they voted in the February school bond election. Most of the candidates supported the bond proposal, which was defeated.

Hockey's unprecedented success – Lake Orion's varsity hockey team ended its impressive run in the state playoffs by losing to the Novi Wildcats in the semi-final round, 3-0. Lake Orion finished the season 20-8-1.

March 23

LO grad does good – 1994 Lake Orion High School graduate Matthew Wandrie was selected by the Lapeer Community Schools' Board of Education to be the district's new superintendent. More than 40 people applied for the job.

Streetscape concerns begin – Streetscape construction closed off its first roads and some Lake Orion businesses aired concerns that this was the beginning of sales being hurt. A large crater at the corner of Flint and N. Lapeer streets blocked downtown traffic.

Wild(wood) spending – The Orion Township Board of Trustees approved spending an additional $30,000 on the Wildwood Pavilion Project, upping the cost so far to $180,000. During their meeting, trustees discussed who would run the amphitheater and what additional work would be needed to open it.

March 30

Lighter light bills – Improvements from the Streetscape construction project will include the replacement of the tungsten bulbs in the lamps lining the downtown streets with energy efficient LED bulbs. According to DDA Director Suzanne Perreault, the lights are not only brighter but less expensive to operate in the long run, cutting energy costs nearly half.

Beating bullies– Oakview Middle School launched its Belly Busters anti-bullying program, modeled after the world-renowned Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. The school hoped to reduce bullying behaviors and produce a safer school setting through healthy peer interaction.

April 6

Fatal accident goes unnoticed – A man crashed his car through two warning signs and into two pieces of construction equipment near the bridge construction site on W. Silverbell Road near the GM Orion Plant. Seven hours passed before anybody noticed. The victim, a native of Mexico, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Zelenak gets nod – Lake Orion Village Manager Paul Zelenak's position was approved for another year by the village council. President Ken Van Portfliet said Zelenak scored well in community involvement and fiscal responsibility, with no trouble spots. Council member John Ranville said he was one of the best managers Lake Orion has ever had.

April 13

Community grows – While the 2010 U.S. Census reported Michigan as the only state in the country to lose population, Orion Township saw 5.8 percent growth. The village of Lake Orion grew even more, at an eight percent rate. Officials said this was a testament to the attractiveness of living in this community.

Lake Orion sends aid – The Lake Orion Police Department and Blanche Sims Elementary School collected more than 450 blankets to be sent to survivors of the twin Japanese disasters. In addition, the school students sent handmade cards with messages of support with the blankets.

April 20

Teacher contract fails – A motion to approve the tentative contract between Lake Orion Community Schools and the teachers' union failed when it the district's board of education finished in a 3-3 tie and needing a majority to pass it. Teachers packed the board room and left disappointed. Superintendent Ginopolis said she was very disappointed.

April 27

Teachers show displeasure – More than 100 teachers from the school district packed the board of education meeting on April 20 to show their strength and concern for the board's failure to approve their 2011 contract. A number of teachers spoke, noting their genuine concern, anger and confusion.

Gibb leaves township job – Orion Township Supervisor Gibb left his position after more than two years to join Oakland County as deputy county executive in charge of the Department of Economic Development & Community Affairs. County Executive L. Brooks Patterson noted Gibb's pro-business, pro-growth accomplishments in selecting him for the position.

May 4

Voters select new school board – Initial results from the May 3 election to fill five seats on the Lake Orion Community Schools Board of Education indicated Melissa Miller, Connie Meech, Birgit McQuiston and Deborah Porter would be joining the group for four-year terms. In addition, Steven Drakos remained in a two-year position.

School budget cuts loom – With only 24 hours left for the current Board of Education to vote on anything, its members discussed some $3 million of recommended cuts to the 2011-12 budget. These included eliminating the police liaison, secretaries, office assistants, high school monitors, lunch aids, media specialists and counselors. Another $4 million in cuts would have to come through reductions to benefits and salaries, Ginopolis said.

Citizens raise stink over landfill – Lake Orion citizens raised concerns over the Township Board's decision to approve the expansion of the Eagle Valley Landfill, lengthening its lifespan another 20 years. The protestors said the board was not given proper information on the expansion. They also had issues with the fact there was no public hearing and no notice to affected residents.

May 11

Streetscape tears up downtown – Construction operations in downtown Lake Orion approached the two-month mark, with the sights, sounds and vibrations of heavy machinery permeating the area. The intersection of Broadway and Flint Streets, in particular, was nothing more than a giant pit, littered with warning signs.

Voter turnout poor – The final results of the previous week's school board election were in, with only 3.714 registered voters (13.5 percent) in Orion Township and the Village of Lake Orion having gone to the polls. The results did not change from the earlier projections.

May 18

So long, summer – Superintendent Ginopolis announced plans to explore the possibility of Lake Orion Community Schools to become the first district in the state to send all of its students to school on a year-round basis.

Cracks worries businesses – Building owners and proprietors downtown said the heavy equipment being used to tear up the roads and sidewalks during Streetscape have damaged the structural integrity of their properties. Besides loosening bricks from the corners of the basement, the vibrations have caused a load-bearing beam to shift, one said.

Orion grad lifts off – Drew Feustel, a 1983 Lake Orion High School graduate and now a U.S. astronaut, headed for the stars aboard the space shuttle Endeavour, which lifted off on May 16 after a two-week delay. Feustel would be making several space walks to conduct maintenance on the International Space Station.

May 25

Replacing the boss – Township Supervisor Gibb set his official resignation date for May 31. Trustee John Steimel was serving as temporary supervisor. Members of the board hoped to find a replacement quickly – someone who would "mesh" with its members.

June 1

Orion teachers frustrated – Proposed budget cuts for the 2011-12 school year, including potential layoffs, brought out throngs of teachers that packed the Board of Education meeting in late May. Speakers during the public comment portion expressed their loss of "trust and faith" in the district and its leaders.

Brick installation postponed – The Streetscape construction project downtown faced scrutiny when the wrong kind of bricks were delivered and installed on many streets. Architects determined many of the bricks did not have the appropriate density to withstand traffic, so they would have to be replaced. T

June 8

She's back – The Orion Township Board of Trustees chose member JoAnn Van Tassel to fill the rest of Matt Gibb's term as Township Supervisor. Some nine people were interviewed during a two-hour session and the board approved Van Tassel's appointment 4-2.

Little interest in village council – There appears to be little interest among village residents to run for the village council in September. This may mean the four members of the current council up for reelection could easily retain their positions.

June 15

School budget finalized – Painful cuts were finalized for 2011-12 Lake Orion Community Schools budget, following a trend among school districts across the state. The $4.6 million deficit resulting from a decrease in per pupil spending by the state and retirement cost increases was addressed through $3 million in cuts and tapping into the district's fund balance.

Teacher contract approved – Concessions were made and the school district and teachers' union agreed to a new contract for the 2011-12 school year. The teachers' contribution to their healthcare insurance was raised from 2.5 to ten percent, along with the doubling of deductibles. In total, the new contract will save the district $915,600.

Hunt for new trustee begins – JoAnn Van Tassel's appointment to Orion Township Supervisor left a vacancy on the Board that needed to be filled. Six people that ran for supervisor job expressed an interest in the trustee position. They would be interviewed, with the board then narrowing down the number before a final decision is made.

June 22

Indianwood preparing for spotlight – Lake Orion will be in the spotlight a year from now when the 2012 U.S. Senior Open golf championship comes to Indianwood Golf & Country Club. Planning is underway for the July 9-15 event.

Village meeting crashed – Downtown business owners, struggling in the "ghost town" shadow of the Streetscape project, packed the Village Council meeting to strongly voice their concerns with the delayed completion of the construction.

June 29

Dragon returns to the lake – Buzz began for the third annual Dragon on the Lake Festival in Lake Orion. Sponsored by the Orion Art Center, the Aug. 26-27 event was expected to draw upwards of 20,000 people during the weekend. New this year would be a water ski show and a teen area.

Flood joins board – Longtime Lake Orion resident Michael Flood joined the Orion Township Board of Trustees as its seventh member. Flood replaced JoAnn Van Tassel, who was appointed Township Supervisor earlier in the year.