Council votes donation to PHS food science building

by Emmitt B. Feldner of The Review staff

PLYMOUTH – The City Council pushed the Plymouth High School Food Science and Agriculture Center $100,000 closer to reality Tuesday.

By a 5-1 vote, the council approved including a $100,000 contribution to the proposed $1 million facility in the capital projects expenditure list for the 2015 budget.

The city’s contribution puts the Plymouth Educational Foundation over $900,000 in its fundraising effort for the project, but it was questioned by several aldermen.

“I don’t want to seem like I’m against the project – I’m for the project, but funding is the problem,” Alderman Jim Faller stated.

Faller said he feared the negative impact the expenditure could have on other areas of the city budget.

He moved to table the resolution to October or November, when the next city budget will be approved. “If they’ve already reached their goal, they won’t need city taxpayer funds,” Faller stated, pointing out that the PEF was already more than 80 percent of the way toward their goal.

His motion failed for lack of a second, but Alderman David Williams then moved to reword the resolution to make the contribution up to $100,000.

“I’m in agreement regarding the importance of the project, but when this council gives away money, we’re not giving away council money, we’re giving away taxpayers’ money,” Williams said.

“By making my amendment, we are acknowledging we support this project, we recognize it is important and we want it to succeed. But let’s see, come November or January, the status of their funds, see how much remains. If necessary, (we) give them the $100,000, but if to get the project completed they need $80,000, then we give them that $80,000 and save $20,000 in taxpayer money,” Williams concluded.

“I don’t see this as giving money away, I see it as an investment in the community,” Alderman Shawn Marcom responded. Marcom chairs the council’s Finance and Personnel Committee, which had recommended the $100,000 contribution.

“This is no different than investing in any other long-term project,” Marcom continued. “This is for our children and our children’s children and future people who come here. We’re not jeopardizing city services or police or fire.”

“This funding will not require any cuts in any city department budgets,” City Administrator Brian Yerges concurred.

Yerges noted that the city had made $250,000 donation to the school district when it partnered with Lakeshore Technical College to create the Science and Technology Center at the high school five years ago.

That money came out of tax incremental finance district funds and not from city tax revenues, he said.

By taking the Food Science and Agriculture Center donation out of capital project funds, Yerges said, “it would not impact and would not increase the tax levy.”

“The dollar amount I felt comfortable with as city administrator was in the range of $75,000 to $100,000,” Yerges added.

Anne Troka, executive director of the PEF, and Plymouth School District Superintendent Carrie Dassow made a presentation to the council before their consideration of the resolution on the proposed Food Science and Agriculture Center.

“This is expected to position the Plymouth School District as an educational leader in the food industry,” Troka said of the center, which will house a 2,700-square foot greenhouse and 2,400 square feet of classroom space.

She said the center is expected to impact nearly three-quarters of the students at Plymouth High School in seven academic areas.

Troka said it will also benefit the community as a whole, with evening and adult classes, an orchard, gardens and more. It will also provide training for future employees for the area’s many food-related industries and businesses.

In response to a question from Faller, Dassow said the district does not intend to add additional teaching staff for the new facility, but instead will make more efficient use of existing staff.

Troka said the goal is to begin construction of the center next spring with the goal of opening for the start of the 2015-16 school year.

Council President Charles Hansen, who noted that he was a former agriculture teacher and guidance counselor at the high school, lauded the project. He said it would add to the attractiveness of the school district and help draw new people to the city. “I see this as an excellent opportunity,” he stated.

“This is one more time where we can step up to the plate and make this a more attractive, more progressive community,” Mayor Donald Pohlmann told the council. “We have to look at the economic impact on the community, jobs and economic growth.”

Williams’ proposed amendment to the resolution failed by a vote of 4-2, with Faller joining him in voting for it and council members Greg Hildebrand and Jim Sedlacek absent. The resolution then passed by a 5-1 vote, with only Faller voting no.

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