By Joshua Gordon
The Woodward Talk/C&G Newspapers
FERNDALE — Just outside Ferndale City Hall and the Ferndale Police Department on East Nine Mile Road stands an historic clock tower, lots of green space and several unused parking spots.
The space seems primed to be a community gathering place, but city officials are looking for ways to best utilize the area. Enter six Lawrence Tech University students who, along with their professor, Ralph Nunez, took the opportunity to get some real-world experience and help out Ferndale by creating designs for the area.
“For years, people have said it would be great to have a downtown park — downtown green space where we could gather people for music, events and whatnot,” Councilman Greg Pawlica said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have the room unless you knock a building down. Then, a couple of years ago, I was sitting on a stone bench next to City Hall and was looking across a rather empty parking lot of 20 spaces in front of the police station and thought it would be a great place for a park, and large enough for a gathering of about 100 people.”
Pawlica took his idea to Community and Economic Development Director Derek Delacourt, who had a previous working relationship with Nunez, and they decided it would be an educational opportunity for the students to have the experience of working with a client before they leave school.
It also would give the city a chance to see possibilities without committing to anything, as officials continue to try to secure funds to make park improvements around the city.
In addition to the area outside City Hall, the students got a chance to work on designs for Schiffer Park, a small stretch of land at the corner of West Nine Mile Road and Planavon Street. In both instances, the students wanted to best utilize the space and make it blend with the rest of the downtown area.
The final plans were presented to the City Council during the March 23 meeting.
“When we looked at the two places, especially at the Civic Center (outside City Hall), there was too much parking, so we wanted to get rid of that and turn it into more green space,” student Brandon Paulus said. “We had program goals, and one big one was to bring the community east of Woodward.”
At the Civic Center area, the students proposed creating a plaza with a stage and pavilion and using part of the clock tower as a water fountain attraction. The area could also incorporate a large reader board for news and presentations, along with swings that would serve as interactive art pieces.
In Schiffer Park, the proposal included a bioswale, large trees and utilization of the large wall by opening it to local artists as a canvas.
“It is important that downtown spaces aren’t just concrete, but extend to have green space and art and non-concrete fixtures,” Mayor Dave Coulter said. “I think it makes for a more attractive downtown. We would have to figure out how to budget for something like this, but it is a great first step to get us thinking about what is possible in the limited amount of space we have downtown.”
The process of creating the plans included taking the students to the sites to take pictures, having the students meet with city officials, and ultimately arriving at Nunez’s landscape architecture business in Birmingham to start plans.
“It was a fun project because we had access to the city planner and got to walk the sites and get some real-world experience,” Nunez said. “We were able to meet at my office and get them in a work environment and use a conference table to sketch and develop ideas. It was very active, very hands-on, and there was more doing instead of just sitting and talking.”
Since the project wrapped up in December, Nunez said four students have continued to work on it to fine-tune the plans for Ferndale. Having the opportunity to work with a real client, he said, will benefit them more than anything when they graduate.
“We had four stay on this, and they met regularly to redo plans and put together the presentation, and it really goes to show if you are passionate about what you are teaching, it is contagious and the students caught that,” Nunez said. “This is something that goes on their résumé, and it gives them the right taste in their mouth with the feeling of doing something successfully and something they were excited about.”
Editor’s Note: The four students are graduating in May. “They did this work without credit and after grades were handed in. This shows their dedication to the profession and represented LTU in a positive light,” Nunez said.
Associate Professor Ed Orlowski was a teaching partner with Nunez and also supported this project.