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  • Kevin Elliott

Funding of work at Innovation Hills park okayed

Rochester Hills City Council on Monday, July 30, approved construction and engineering contracts for more than $4 million in work toward a natural water features area at Innovation Hills.

The work includes about 10 acres of ponds, gathering areas and walkways, including a pond area, sundial mound and park, parking area, bioswale, trail extensions, landscaping, restorations and plantings. Council was presented with a $3.8 million contract with Michigan Lawn Maintenance, dba Sherman Nursery Farms, of Columbus, Michigan, and TR Pepercak, of China Township. Council also approved a $420,000 construction administration contract with Hubbell, Roth and Clark, of Bloomfield Hills, to oversee the construction project.

Partial funding for the project was included in the city's 2018 adopted budget, with the state of Michigan providing a grant in the amount of $500,000 toward the project. Additional funding is included in the 2019-2020 budgets, totaling $3.2 million to complete the project. However, Rochester Hills Parks and Natural Resources Director Ken Elwert said the untimely death of a major donor led the department to request additional funds from the city.

"Because of the untimely death of Mr. (Steve) Stolaruk, a major parks supporter, we have lost expected donations for excavating and grading, resulting in the request you see tonight," Elwert said. "However, we have raised over $1.5 million in in-kind services, grants and donations in about the last year-and-a-half. We plan to be doubling down in the next year in pursuit of additional funds going forward."

Stolaruk, 91, an entrepreneur who started Stolaruk Asphalt, Star-Batt Inc and OnCorde Inn Hotels, had developed several commercial and residential projects throughout his career. He was also a long-time community supporter, offering $1 million of in-kind services in 2013 through the Steve and Vivian Stolaruk Foundation to the city to begin work on Innovation Hills. In-kind donations are donations of goods, services or time, instead of cash.

Rochester Hills City Council President Mark Tisdel said Mr. Stolaruk's donations included about $400,000 in excavating work that was done, leaving a shortage of about $600,000 in the project budget.

Rochester Hills chief financial officer Joe Snyder said the city would need to contribute a total of about $1.2 million to the project this year in order to keep the project whole. He said the city could fill the gap without reducing any fund balance, based on greater than expected revenues. Those revenues include about $700,000 in license and permit fees that weren't anticipated and about $300,000 more than expected in returns on investment. Additionally, he said expenditures are lower than anticipated.

Councilwoman Stephanie Morita said of the $3.8 million being spent on the first contract, about $600,000 is from non-city funds, such as donations and grants. She said over $3 million has already been budgeted by the city for the project.

Councilman Ryan Deel noted that the city received a $500,000 grant from the state of Michigan that is contingent on the work beginning in 2018. Elwert confirmed those funds would be lost if the project didn't move forward.

Council unanimously approved both contracts with councilman Dale Hetrick absent.

Councilman Jim Kubicina noted the contributions Stolaruk gave to the city, particularly toward Innovation Hills, which essentially started the fundraising and donation campaign for the park and allowed ground to be broken.

The city in February dedicated an entrance area at the park in Stolaruk's memory for his longtime support. Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett said at the time that Stolaruk was the first individual to believe in the park and "saw the vision when no one else could."

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