NEW BUFFALO – After listening to a presentation on the matter by New Buffalo Area Schools (NBAS) Superintendent Dr. Jeff Leslie and School Board president Chuck Heit during their Sept. 16 meeting, members of the New Buffalo City Council voted unanimously to convey property to the district that will facilitate the construction of a new Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) facility across from the high school on Clay Street.
The schools sought the vacation and transfer of unused road right-of-ways as well as the property now used by the existing skate park to allow for the most efficient building design and site plan.
The schools have committed to keeping the area used as a skate park a recreational use in perpetuity, and future improvements may include, among other things, additional pickle ball courts.
Under the agreement the city will vacate and abandon its interests in the following rights-of-way: The portion of Franklin Avenue lying northerly of the right-of-way of the CSX Railroad and southerly of Clay Street; the portion of Farmer Street lying northerly of the right-of-way of the CSX Railroad and southerly of Clay Street; and the portion of Virginia Street lying northerly of the right-of-way of the CSX Railroad and southerly of Clay Street.
Leslie said the new facility would house many robotics-oriented materials, including a robotics field, two classrooms and a storage area.
There was a public hearing on the matter prior to the vote to adopt the resolution.
The timetable for the new facility is to have it in open and in operation a year from now.
In other business, Mayor Lou O’Donnell IV outlined a proposed plan to improve affordable housing accessibility in the city that was put together by Abonmarche, the city’s consulting engineering firm.
In reviewing the current situation, the proposed plan noted, among other things, that the desirability and the resulting high demand for property in the region has worked to raise real estate values dramatically, even while incomes in the area remain relatively stagnant.
Also noted was the fact that small communities such as New Buffalo that are working overtime to attract and retain businesses need more viable housing options for a growing workforce.
Information included that on Sept. 9 the median list price of homes in the New Buffalo area was $450,000.
“The former hardware store property (on South Whittaker Street) acquired by the city and the DDA from Berrien County through the property tax foreclosure process presents an opportunity of inexpensive land that could be used for a project that: Improves housing accessibility in the community; Creates a new public parking area to support commercial businesses along South Whittaker; Activates the South Whittaker Street commercial area by creating activity and increasing the number of people living in the neighborhood,” O’Donnell IV read.
Home plans include one and two bedroom 900 sq. ft. cottages as well as a one bedroom duplex option that would consist of two one bedroom 450 sq. ft. units that are placed side-by-side to give the same exterior appearance of the one and two bedroom bungalows.
Potential project partners listed were: the NBAS Building Trades Program; the Michigan Economic Development Corporation; the Michigan State Housing Development Authority; the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development; the Federal Home Loan Bank of Indianapolis; and other area nonprofit and philanthropic organizations.
Also on the agenda, head lifeguard Faith Hoekstra made a presentation on a safe summer season for bathers using and enjoying the beach in New Buffalo.
Hoekstra had praise for the lifeguards under her guidance.
She said that Alex Tellez was involved in many preventative actions and was a keen water watcher and helper.
She noted that Evan Moyer was involved in one rescue and many preventative actions.
Hoekstra also reported that Gavin Ales, and Eagle Scout, was involved in eight rescues/assists and three major first aids.
She gave Ales and Tellez special commendations for their exemplary service.
“During the busiest and hottest part of the summer; from July 8 through August 4, the three of us guarded the beach 40 hours per week,” Hoekstra said. “They put their heads down and faithfully did everything I asked of them to keep people safe each day.
“During that time period there were 50,457 beach visitors, and 12,653 of them went into the water,” she continued. “Together during that time we made 17 rescues, and I am grateful for their hard work.”
Hoekstra was in turn thanked for her good work and dedication to keeping people safe when they spent time at the lake.
During the off-season she stays in shape working as a personal trainer, and she continues to come to the aid of others while performing her duties as an EMT.
Finally, there was unanimous approval on a motion to have Toni Morris, Brandon McSmith and Ron Watson serve on the Short-Term Rental Appeals Board along with the police chief and city manager.