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Orchard Lake

August 13, 2014

Former Michigan Military Academy barracks demolished

By Cari DeLamielleure-Scott
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
Michigan Military Academy cadets walk outside the academy’s barracks.

ORCHARD LAKE — A piece of Orchard Lake’s history is being demolished after vandals caused severe damage to a 60,000-square-foot building on the Orchard Lake School’s campus two years ago.

Destruction of the former Michigan Military Academy’s barracks building began July 24 and is expected to be “fully on the ground” by Aug. 18, according to Martin Vucinaj, CFO and COO for Orchard Lake Schools.

Vucinaj explained that about two years ago, vandals broke into the building and damaged a water line in the showers on the third floor bathroom and in some of the apartments, causing standing water throughout the building. When the building was damaged, students reportedly told Vucinaj, “It sounded like Niagra Falls.” To renovate the entire building would have cost $14 million-$16 million. Vucinaj said the suspects were never found.

“It was mostly water damage,” Vucinaj said. “But when we did the assessment to tear it down, we found there was asbestos in there, so we had to remove the asbestos before we could tear it down.”

The building has not been used since it was vandalized, and the cost to demolish the old barracks is over $500,000, according to Vucinaj. While the plan is to rebuild in five to 10 years, currently, Orchard Lake Schools does not have any definitive plans. The future building will be modernized, but it will be constructed to mimic the current facade to “have the same feel,” he added.

“(The barracks) has a large amount of history, so we’re sad to see it go,” said Gina Gregory, president of the Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society. “We understand that history can’t always be saved, so we hope they recognize their past as they move forward.”

Gregory added that she hopes Orchard Lake Schools will continue to incorporate the barracks into the walking tours of the campus and that, one day, a historical marker could be placed to “keep history alive.”

The center portion of the building was built in 1884, and two wings were added later, according to Brian Bohnett, author of “Them Was the Days! Edgar Rice Burroughs and the History of the Michigan Military Academy,” which was published in 2001. Bohnett, who lives in Williamston, explained in an interview that the building was used for housing the cadets who attended the school, and it held a maximum of around 150 cadets — two per room.

“I think the entire academy as a whole is significantly historical. The removal of the barracks building will definitely change the look of the campus, and I hope that any new construction will reflect that of the original buildings,” Bohnett said in an email.
Bohnett said that while conducting research for his book, he read a cadet’s account in which the man talked about taking a food cart, which had been used to transport food from Pontiac to Orchard Lake, and placing it on the roof of the barracks.

“Don’t ask me how (they did it); it was never explained,” Bohnett said.

“I tend to like to see some of these (historical) places stay as they are, but I know progress has to happen. … I wish there was a way they can save it,” Bohnett said.

Bohnett said that he has acquired more information and photographs on the Michigan Military Academy since his book was published, so he is planning on updating the book.

If residents have information or photographs and would like to speak to Bohnett, contact him at elmoenid@yahoo.com. To see photographs of the Michigan Military Academy, visit www.gwbhs.org or the West Bloomfield Township Public Library’s digital collection at www.wblib.org.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Cari DeLamielleure-Scott at cdelamielleure@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1093.