By DREW HOWARD
The City of Rochester Hills is moving forward with development of its Innovation Hills park following the untimely death of one of the project’s most charitable independent donors.
Rochester Hills resident Steve Stolaruk, who died at the age of 91 this past February, is said to have made an in-kind pledge to the Innovation Hills project of around $1 million. Of that total, only $400,000 has been retained by the city, leaving what council is calling a “$600,000 hole in the budget.”
Innovation Hills, which will be located at 2800 W. Hamlin Road on over 100 acres of undeveloped land, is being touted as the region’s largest universally accessible play area. Plans for the park include a sensory garden, an accessible play area for individuals of all abilities, and pathways through nature designed for runners, bikers and walkers.
Without going into detail, City Council President Mark Tisdel said there was “no elegant way” to ask for the lost dollars back from Mr. Stolaruk’s estate. Park development will nevertheless continue on schedule thanks to the city’s general fund balance.
“Between building revenues being great, our investment earnings being great, and our expenditures well under control, we think we’ve got enough in general fund to contribute the other $1.2 million dollars to make the project whole for this year,” Rochester Hills CFO Joe Snyder said.
On Monday, July 30, the Rochester Hills City Council approved a blanket purchase order for the development of natural water features at Innovation Hills which includes a pond area, sundial mound and park, and a parking area to include bioswale and trail extensions, landscaping and restoration.
Development costs for the natural water features amount to nearly $3.5 million, according to city council notes, for a total not-to-exceed the amount of $3.8 million. Of that $3.8 million, close to 20 percent of funds are said to have come from independent donations, grants and the like.
Innovation Hills has also received $500,000 in funding from the state. Ken Elwert, director of Parks and Natural Resources, said the state funded the project under the condition that a certain percentage of the park is completed by September 30 this year.
Elwert said a memorial service was held for Stolaruk inside Innovation Hills to honor his contributions to the project. “His work is responsible for what you have there now,” he told council. “He really started to build the infrastructure of what we’ll build the park on.”
Council member James Kubicina also took a moment to praise Stolaruk’s efforts, encouraging park developers to honor him by naming a park trail or other feature after the Stolaruk family.
“I want to give a salute to Steve Stolaruk,” Kubicina said. “He was instrumental in getting this whole program started with Innovation Hills. We all regret his untimely death…I got to talk to him a few times, and he really believed in the park.”
The Rochester Hills City Council will meet again Monday, August 13. You can watch this meeting and others in full by visiting the council’s YouTube page, “Council Meetings – City of Rochester Hills.”