Work should begin soon at the Birmingham Conference Center, as the administrative offices of Birmingham Public Schools prepare to switch buildings next summer.
School administrators will be moving out of their current offices at 550 W. Merrill St. in late spring after the school board sold the building to Merrill Street Investments for $2 million in mid-October.
Now, administrators are preparing to move into the Birmingham Conference Center, located next door to Groves High School at the corner of 13 Mile and Evergreen. The move is part of the district's attempt to reduce its physical footprint and generate revenue.
But there's work to be done first. Currently, the Birmingham Conference Center is managed by Sodexo Food Services. Under the proposed plan, the district would close the conference center so that central offices could take over the space.
On Tuesday night, the Birmingham Board of Education approved spending $556,000 for the first stage of the renovation project — about $240,000 less than originally planned due to a change in some technology purchases and an altered driveway design.
Approved Tuesday night were interior renovations at the building, as well as the purchase and installation of various technology and cabling systems needed to make the building suitable for office use.
In total, the school board approved a $501,000 contract with Great Lakes Construction Service, which will do the interior renovations. The board also approved a $5,000 contract with Advanced Lighting and Sound to install an audio-video system as well as a $50,500 contract with Digital Age Technologies to wire the building for phone and internet.
According to school board members, school officials and Superintendent Dan Nerad, the district was very careful in moving foward with the renovation plan, making sure to reuse space whenever possible and keep costs low.
"This board is very focused on how we spend our dollars when it's outside the classroom," Trustee Steve Scheidt said.
In total, plans include creating 18 different offices plus three conference rooms in the 23,000-square-foot building, which was built in 1998. The district will also be turning the conference center's cafeteria into a meeting space for the school board, complete with the audio-visual equipment needed to record and broadcast board meetings.
"If we moved there tomorrow, (the Birmingham Conference Center) is not set up as an office building," Nerad said in response to concerns over renovation costs from Birmingham Education President Scott Warrow.
Nerad added that renovations are only expected to cost close to $1 million — half the total revenue the district should expect to see from the sale of the current administration building. The remaining $1 million will be put toward building maintenance needs throughout the district, he said.
Historically, too, moving to and renovating the conference center is cost effective, Trustee Robert Lawrence pointed out. Several years ago, the district estimated it would cost $4 million to renovate the current administration building, or roughly $190 per square foot. Now, they'll be spending close to $20 per square foot.
"This is the right economic decision," he said.
Ever since the district put the building at 550 W. Merrill up for sale in 2009, many spots have been considered for the administration's new home, including the Doyle Center in Bloomfield Hills, the former bus facility at 2159 E. Lincoln Ave. and the Birmingham Covington School.
According to Assistant Superintendent Debbie Piesz, construction is slated to begin at the conference center in mid-January with hopes to finish at the beginning of June.
However, since the administration building hasn't yet been officially sold — it is currently under contract with Merrill Street Investments — Trustee Susan Hill said she couldn't support the plans.
"This building is under contract," she said. "This building is not sold. We're incurring costs prior to incurring revenue and simply I'm not comfortable doing that."
While several buyers have backed out of buying 550 W. Merrill in the past — this bid is the third such contract in 2012 alone — renovation plans for the administration building did come before the Birmingham Planning Board at their Dec. 12 meeting. Plans include upgrading the existing parking lot, partially enclosing the lower level (now used for parking), adding a new vestibule and updating the facade. In total, Merrill Street is looking to add an additional 11,000 square feet to the building.