The same thing happened Sunday, and both times, a Farmington Hills Fire Department crew came out to clear the building. Farmington Public Schools facilities director Jon Riebe said the false alarm is symptomatic of problems a Nov. 5 bond referendum is designed to address.
"We have the same problem at Warner Upper Elemenary," he said. "The security system goes off."
Voters are being asked to approve two proposals: Proposal 1, $154.6 million to fund safety features, infrastructure repairs and improvements and increased technology; and Proposal 2, $31.6 million for improvements to high school auditoriums and athletic fields and technology replacement.
Proposal 1 must pass in order for Proposal 2 to be implemented.
While the district budgets about $2 million a year for maintenance, Riebe said at Gill Elementary School alone, his office has gotten 180 requests for repairs since January.
New principal Chris Suliman said most of the repairs have been done, but many of the building's problems, like a leaky roof, will require more than piecemeal solutions. Opened 58 years ago, Gill is the district's second oldest building. Farmington High School is 60 years old.
"I love my building, but it's like my home. After 60 years, it needs some TLC," she said.
Code, bathroom issues
Gill parent Kelly Knight first walked through the school's doors in 1978, as a second grader. She graduated from Farmington High and Michigan State, moved to Texas because of her husband's job, then came back to Michigan. The couple chose Farmington, she said, because she loves the community and the schools.
"But walking into Gill when my kids started going, it was apparent things needed to be fixed," she said.
Inside, 1950s-era classroom bathrooms often double as storage areas. In some of the bathrooms, an unpleasant odor lingers despite efforts to clean and sanitize the facilities. One Gill teacher closed off the toilet in her room with plastic wrap, because flies were coming up from the sewer line.
The school's newer addition meets building codes, but the original structure still has exposed clear glass in the hallways. These days, glass must be reinforced with wire mesh, and floor-to-ceiling cinderblock is required, Sulimon said. While coats and backpacks hang on hooks in the hallway, they should be stored in lockers or in the classroom, to meet current standards, Riebe said.
Classroom furnishings are also showing their age. Electrical tape wraps the worn edges of some desks and tables, and laminate is peeling away from classroom sink cabinets. Teachers create elaborate wall decorations to hide holes, and try to block retrofitted (and now outdated) data port and electrical outlet strips. Classroom heating units show wear and rust.
Sulimon said when most people come into the building, they don't notice the broken floor tiles, classroom issues or stained ceilings.
"When you walk in only to vote, you don't see the nitty gritty details," she said.
Knight, who co-chairs the pro-bond Advocates for Excellence committee, worries particularly about safety issues, like exposed wires in classrooms and the buckling bricks and rusted railings at an entrance to the original building–an entrance used by all children who ride the bus.
"It's not horrible," Knight said. "It could be worse. But to me, it's not Farmington."
This is the first in a series of articles based on a tour of Power Upper Elementary and Gill Elementary Schools, guided by parent Kelly Knight, school principals Jim Anderson and Chris Sulimon, district facilities director Jon Riebe and Jon Manier, district executive director of instructional services. Bond information is available on the district's website: farmington.k12.mi.us