DOWAGIAC — Dowagiac and the Dowagiac Union schools have reached an agreement that paves the way for improvements in and around the high school on the city’s south side.
City Manager Kevin Anderson and Superintendent Paul Hartsig said this week the two entities have agreed to work together on a project to raze most of the former ICG building to make way for a new parking lot and other amenities. The school board approved the agreement Nov. 19 and the City Council a week later.
They said they’ve been working with the building owner in recent years to find a way to move forward. The building is between the high school and the high school football field and has been vacant for a decade and once housed a tool and die business. The building is now owned by Michigan Die Casting.
Anderson said Michigan Die Casting is interested in selling the property, and he expects it can be done within the next six to eight months. The agreement signed by the school district and the city calls for the city to gain control of the property by June 30, 2019.
Hartsig said the school district has committed to paying the city $200,000 to help buy the property, remove the metal structure on the site and develop a parking lot at the corner of Franklin and Paul streets. Once the parking lot is completed, the district will lease it from the city for $2,000 a year.
In addition to getting rid of the blighted ICG property, the agreement calls for a pedestrian walkway to be built on Paul Street and West Prairie Ronde to where the current sidewalk exists in front of the high school. The school district and the city will share the costs of the walkway and seek grants to cover part or all of the costs.
Anderson said the city’s goal is to connect the new walkway to the trail system at nearby Russom Park off Middle Crossing Road. Hartsig said the school district’s overall goal is to improve walkways for students.
Hartsig said money for the project was set aside in the $37.2 million bond issue voters approved in late 2015. The bond issue paid for renovations at the high school and four elementary schools and construction of a new gym. Much of the work has been done with part of the elementary work to be done next summer.
“This is good for the community and for the schools,” Anderson said. “When voters supported the bond issue in 2015, they were saying they wanted that area as the high school campus for the next several generations. This abandoned facility is in the middle of that and this helps us take care of that.”
Both men said people can expect the high school/football field area to look much different in the next year or so. Not only will much of the ICG property be cleared away, improvements are coming to the football field including the restoration of the wrought iron fencing and the addition of the new parking lot.