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Filed under: News and photos — admin     2:31 pm June 16, 2011

The Farmington school board voted 7-0 early this morning to sell the closed Eagle Elementary School on 14 Mile to the Islamic Cultural Center in Franklin, after a vocal and emotional public hearing.

There were protesters and supporters of the $1.1 million purchase. Protesters cited the lack of citizen input and notification of the sale; some claimed the organization is anti-Semitic.

But board members — who were also visibly emotional — said they saw no reason not to approve the sale.
“I haven’t heard evidence to persuade me that there is good cause not to proceed with the matter,” said school board President Howard Wallach, who used his gavel several times when members of the audience called out comments and interrupted speakers.
“I think it is in the best interest of the children and I think it meets our financial responsibilities,” said board member Priscilla Brouillette.
Disappointing behavior
Board members also said they were upset with behavior and bigotry they saw during the hearing.
Wallach said that the district tries to model good behavior for children.
“Unfortunately, tonight we did not do a good job of modeling that behavior,” he said.
“I grieve much of what has transpired tonight because everyone here has worked so hard to be a welcoming, loving community,” said Brouillette.
Mohammed Malik, of Farmington Hills, said that while he does not belong to the center, he finds it “sad” that people oppose it because the buyer is Muslim.
“It disturbs me when people come up with the argument ‘don’t sell it to Muslims,’” he said. “I know it is fear, unfortunately, because of what some Muslims have done.”
He said he understands concerns, but hopes the center will serve to help people understand one another better.
“As communities grow, we need to be educated about one another,” he said.
Dr. Nabil Suliman, a Livonia internist who belongs to the Unity Center in Bloomfield Hills, said that “if you want to know who is on the (Islamic Cultural Association),” it is people like him.
“I am on the ICA, my kids, my family,” said Suliman, of West Bloomfield. “I have lived here since 1992.”
He said his four children have been raised in the community and are Muslim American.
“Their friends are Jews, Christians, Muslims. They are part of the fabric of the community,” he said.
“The purpose is basically to have a community center for our kids,” he said of the site.
Request to table
Bradley Scobel, who is in real estate, said his company would have been interested in buying the property had they known about it.
He said if they tabled the item and issued requests for proposals to buy the property, they would probably get more offers to choose from.
Attorney Steven Reifman of Farmington Hills said should the sale be approved, there would be a lawsuit. He formed a coalition to oppose the sale, and is also head of the neighboring Olde Franklin Towne Homeowners Association, neighboring the property.
Board member Sheilah Clay said as an African American, she knows what discrimination is.
“Where does the discrimination stop?” she asked. “It’s based on fear and ignorance, and not knowing.”
Her comments prompted a couple residents to leave the room, with one woman saying she didn’t need to be lectured to.
“This is not who we are in the community,” said board member Karen Bolsen of intolerance towards diversity.
She said that when she was growing up in Farmington Hills, there were comments about Jewish people who moved into her neighborhood.
“Some of the things that you said… are some of the same things they said of Jews.”
Afterwards, Phil Mintz of Farmington Hills, and an alumnus of Eagle, said he was offended by some of the board comments.
“We should not be put down for opposing the issue,” he said. “Just because we feel like we feel about the procedure doesn’t make us all racist.”
For the children
The Islamic Cultural Center is buying the property for what members said is primarily a community and not a religious center. They said that it would allow for more activities and a playground for children.
Firas Nashef, president of the Center, said afterwards that he was gratified about the decision.
“I’m pleased that the board did what they believed is in the best interest of the school district,” said Nashef, a Farmington Hills dentist. “I wish I could say that more community members felt at ease, but we are definitely going to work with the neighbors to ease all of their concerns.”
He said he wants them to “feel it is as much for them as it is for the Muslim community.”
Eagle, which is on a multi-acre site west of Middlebelt, is in West Bloomfield and was one of four elementary schools in the Farmington Public School District, plus another school site, to be closed by the district last year for financial reasons. Over 50 years old, it was set for demolition this summer along with the other schools. The offer was not solicited by the district and came after the board’s authorization to demolish the five closed school sites.
Seeking information
Scores of people attended Tuesday’s meeting at the school’s administration center, standing outside and crowding the lobby where a television broadcast the meeting. They said they had found out through word of mouth, neighborhood groups, e-mails sent to them and the media.
“I just think it’s done with no notification, and that’s not how to run anything,” said Anita Leiberman, of West Bloomfield, one of the audience members who stayed nearly until the end of the meeting, to try to find out about the sale.
Because of the large crowd, Farmington sent several police officers to the building, where television cameras and other media also were in attendance.
Wallach said had he known of the attendance, the meeting would have been moved to North Farmington High School.
The item was near the end of the agenda, which also included student recognitions and the budget hearing.
At one point, Wallach told people in the overflowing room that they would get a chance to talk, but they needed to fill out a public comment card. He also asked those without a seat to leave because of fire code regulations, until the agenda item was up for discussion.
When people were slow to leave, Wallach called a recess.
A late night
The hearing did not start until 11 p.m. The vote took place around 1:15 a.m.
By that time, several of the 80-plus people who had submitted comment cards had left.
Maxine Harwin, who has lived behind Eagle since 1967, had a chance to speak, but had to leave before the meeting ended.
She said she found out about the sale when she called to see when the building would be demolished.
“I think something like this will impact my way of life,” she said. “People are most concerned with being uninformed.
“I’m concerned with having parties at night. Hearing people in my back yard … yeah, that will affect me.”
Among the supporters were those who said the center would bring diversity, was good economically, and would be a good educational center.

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