You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Thu, Mar 31, 2011 : 4:40 p.m.

Michigan Islamic Academy officials make case for new Pittsfield Township school

By Tom Perkins

Staff and leaders from an Ann Arbor-based Muslim school are making their case for a proposal to build a new school in Pittsfield Township.

The Michigan Islamic Academy is hoping to open a new 25,000-square-foot facility at the intersection of Golfside and Ellsworth roads. Residents concerned about the project were invited to a meeting at the current school to ask questions and meet with staff this morning.

The Pittsfield Township planning commission voted unanimously in January to direct the township planning staff to draft a resolution recommending that the township Board of Trustees deny the request.

A new vote on the issue was scheduled for the commission's April 7 meeting, but that has now been delayed while the township gathers more information on the plan.

Much of the concern so far centers around potential traffic issues, which some neighboring residents contend will significantly increase if the school is built. Nearby Fortis Academy on Golfside already causes congestion at the start and end of the school day.

School leaders at the Islamic Academy say they commissioned a traffic study with a firm recommended by the planning commission, and the study found there would be little impact on traffic in the area. They added that Fortis is a much larger school with an enrollment over 750. The new Islamic Academy would see around 225 students in its first year and be built to accommodate around 350. The traffic study sought to determine the impact of a school with 350 students.


Tarek Nahlawi

Tom Perkins | For

Plans also include building a community center. Tarek Nahlawi, a Michigan Islamic Academy board member, said that project is likely at least seven years off. He said a separate traffic study would be conducted to determine the center’s impact before it is built.

The school is planned on a 26-acre parcel on the north side of Ellsworth, where Golfside dead-ends. Nahlawi said traffic issues are addressed in the property’s design and constraints on the school’s size.

The main entrance would be located west of Golfside on the north side of Ellsworth. Cars would exit via a new, short street that would create a four-way intersection where Golfside dead ends into Ellsworth.

A traffic island would be placed in the new street, preventing traffic from traveling north to south, or vice versa, through the new intersection. That would help address residents’ concerns with traffic congestion on Golfside, Nahlawi said. Cars could also turn right into the new street from Ellsworth.

The driveway running in front of the school is designed to accommodate 70 cars and runs diagonally from Ellsworth to the new street.

Nahlawi said the current school has nearly 200 students enrolled. Many families carpool and the school also has two buses and vans, Nahlawi said, so there wouldn't be a situation where the traffic is backed up out to Ellsworth.

The bulk of the complaints have come from resident in the Roundtree Apartments complex on Ellsworth and the Silverleaf subdivision located just to the property's west. The property was zoned as part of Silverleaf subdivision and homeowners have said they bought their homes expecting the adjacent property to stay residential. The property was foreclosed and went back to the lender, and would have to be rezoned.

The school has been at its current 2.8-acre Plymouth Road location in Ann Arbor since 1986. A new addition was built in 1996, but school staff and leaders say they have outgrown that 13-classroom building. The private school costs $4,500 annually to attend and has a religious curriculum. Staff there said average scores for the MEAP and ACT are above neighboring public schools and national averages.

But the 8,000-square-foot building doesn’t have a gym or library and many of the classrooms are cramped.

Several years ago, the school nearly moved to Ypsilanti’s former Ardis Elementary School, but that deal fell apart, Nahlawi said.


The Michigan Islamic Academy staff says some of the current building's classrooms are small and cramped.

Tom Perkins | For

“We have very limited resources here, we’re next to the mosque, and we’ve been searching for a place to expand to be in a school that would fit the 21st century,” Nahlawi said. The old building would likely be used for an expanded Sunday school, he added.

Nahlawi and several other private investors bought the land at Golfside and Ellsworth several years ago. Prior to purchasing the land, he told Pittsfield Supervisor Mandy Grewal and Treasurer Patricia Tupacz Scribner of his plans. He said he was told as long as the proposal fit the planning guidelines, there shouldn't be any problems.

Township officials and neighbors raised a number of concerns, primarily over traffic, when plans were presented, but Nahlawi said the school has addressed those and gone beyond what was asked in some cases.

Nahlawi said an engineer is working with the Silverleaf Homeowner Association to develop a six-foot-tall evergreen screen with more trees between the school property and the subdivision abutting it.

Nahlawi said new concerns have been raised over the proposed community center, which would include a swimming pool, basketball court and computer room. Use of that building would be spread throughout the day and not increase traffic much, Nahlawi said.

Addressing concerns from one of the attendees on Thursday, Nahlawi said there are at least four other Islamic community centers in the area and every Muslim in the region wouldn’t suddenly be recreating at that one.

Addressing rumors he has heard, Nahlawi said there are no plans to build a large mosque, no kids will be walking or driving to the school and no one will be using Silverleaf’s roads to get into the school. He added that there will not be a call to prayer over loudspeakers.


Students s on recess at the Michigan Islamic Academy's Ann Arbor school.

Tom Perkins | For

Nahlawi said the group continues to hear new concerns every time one concern is addressed. He said it is a similar pattern to what he has experienced before, and he is growing frustrated with what he believes boils down to a fear of Muslims from some of those opposed.

“We have done everything that has been asked, so now there has to be something else,” he said. “Is it fear of the unknown because we’re Muslims? I want to open my school, my community center, but I want to have a dialogue.

“All we are trying to do is have a better education for our children.”

Nahlawi said he was disappointed only two residents attended Thursday's event and he is scheduling a second meeting for Tuesday evening, though those details have yet to be determined. A woman who attended from Roundtree Apartments, but declined to give her name, said she had no problem with the it being a Muslims school, but said she was more concerned about the addition to the neighborhood.

She said a Wal-Mart opened down the road and Fortis already has over 750 students. That would mean nearly 1,000 students in the neighborhood, which she said was too many for a residential zone.

She said she previously understood that there would be more than 350 students and said the meeting was helpful in addressing some concerns. She said no one in the neighborhood has a problem with a small school, but there were no guarantees that the school would stay small. She pointed to Fortis, which she said was originally intended to be a small school.

"We've seen that movie before," she said.

Nahlawi said most Muslims wouldn’t chose the school because of its religious curriculum and because it’s too expensive. He said the estimate of 350 students is on the high end, but he is willing “to sign a piece of paper” stating that the school wouldn't expand beyond that.

Mary Eicher, who is on the Silverleaf Homeowner’s Association board, also attended the meeting. She underscored that she was not there representing the board or its position on the issue.

She said she most of concern among residents of the subdivision center around traffic congestion, though she didn’t share those concerns. She said the Washtenaw County Road Commission recommended adjusting the timing of traffic lights between Carpenter and Hewitt, which would help speed up traffic.

She said she thought there was a “fear of the new” with some people, but said the Michigan Islamic Academy is being open, and has gone out of its way to address concerns.

“It may be a matter of time. You may still not get some people to be OK with this until they deal with their own fears,” she said. “I think that’s part of it. That takes time.”



Mon, Apr 4, 2011 : 12:55 p.m.

Why did this group pick a piece of property not zoned for a school, and crammed in right next to an existing subdivision? From the Pittesfield Township website it looks like they need to get the property REZONED so they can build there. It doesn't make sense to me to buy property that is not zoned for what you want to build and then try to ram a rezoning through on residents that thought they'd be living next to other residents, and not a giant complex with a bunch of kids. It seems arrogant to me to do that and assume (since they already bought the property) that the community would give in to the request.


Sat, Apr 2, 2011 : 7:10 p.m.

If you think Pittsfield Township is moving to block the school because of "traffic concerns" and not xenphobia, I have a bridge in Brooklynn I would like to sell you. NOTE to Michigan Islamic Academy: Build in Ann Arbor!!! We would love to welcome your addition to your wonderful school on Plymouth Road by North Campus! Besides that whole Freedom to practice your religion, the city would LOVE the money spent on construction, leading to employment (thus, increased tax revenue).

Will Warner

Sat, Apr 2, 2011 : 2:35 p.m.

Academies like this one are understandable efforts by parents to pass on their way of life. All immigrants to America fear seeing their children become strangers to them as the children are remade by the dominant culture. American liberty can look like license, and America offers many ways of living that parents would not choose for their children. It is understandable, but doomed. The great, wonderful American melting pot will work its magic, incompletely on the children, but completely on the grandchildren. It is the grandparents who become strangers, barely recognizable to their decedents. "Dude, your grandfather is strange." "I know, I know, but he is a good man." This process, while inexorable, can be the source of much conflict and resentment within families. The situation is worst when the way of life is defined solely or mostly by a religion. The parents will fight like hell to keep their children out of Hell. But the thing about religion is that it either makes sense to you or it doesn't. Religious belief is formulated so as to be untestable, so when religion is the source of conflict there is no end to it except to agree to disagree. Very religious parents can never go there, so there is no end to it. America permits the kind or self-segregation represented by this academy. Here we believe in freedom of religion and the right of parents to judge what is best for their children. But the forces of the melting pot in time dissolve the walls of conclaves, replacing self-isolation with integration, welcoming the children and providing them escape.

Will Warner

Sat, Apr 2, 2011 : 11:33 p.m.

Thanks, David. We agreed once before, I think, on the use of real names when posting.

David Briegel

Sat, Apr 2, 2011 : 7:14 p.m.

Will, that's a good post with which I can agree.


Fri, Apr 1, 2011 : 6:13 p.m.

"The school is planned on a 26-acre parcel on the north side of Ellsworth, where Golfside dead-ends. " Should this read "the south side of Ellsworth"??

Tony Dearing

Fri, Apr 1, 2011 : 5:19 p.m.

A number of comments have been removed because they were off-topic. This is a story about a school proposed for a location in Pittsfield Township, and we ask people to direct their comments to the topic of this story. Thanks.


Fri, Apr 1, 2011 : 5 p.m.

I wonder if they have looked into the old PETE PESTILO building on 12 as a possible site. It was quite a building for the day care school that used to be there. And is only about 3/4 of a mile south of the proposed area.


Fri, Apr 1, 2011 : 4:08 p.m.

As anyone who was at the recent meeting about a proposed charter school in Ypsi Township can tell you, it's not about religion. It's about change (or a fear of children? lol) There was a roomful of people there, as well, saying , no no no, with lots of would-be objections. The traffic! The teenagers! The roads! The scenery! The noise! There's another school a mile away! Same objections, different school.

Matt Cooper

Sat, Apr 2, 2011 : 10:42 a.m.

Yes, and the school has met and exceeded each and every request for changes, etc. And yet there are still more changes requested daily. They get one dealt with and there's 15 more presented. Where does it stop? Fear and Islam-o-phobia take many different shapes.


Fri, Apr 1, 2011 : 3:07 p.m.

I love the way Libs fall all over themselves trying to be PC or "open minded". Good job.


Fri, Apr 1, 2011 : 8:10 p.m.

Why so quick to disparage others? You love us! You said so yourself. Come on, smile, it's Friday.


Fri, Apr 1, 2011 : 3:51 p.m.

Open minded = definition: Receptive to new and different ideas. having a mind receptive to new ideas, arguments, etc.; unprejudiced. Thank you for the compliment.


Fri, Apr 1, 2011 : 2:55 p.m.

well I can see the point of the homeowners who purchased their homes based on the belief that the neighborhood would remain a residential neighborhood. I get that the school has outgrown thier current location but there has to be buildings around here for sale that are suitable for a school and already have the zoning. (and you know, the whole reduce, reuse, recycle element of not letting a building go to waste) also if they end up building it maybe the school time could be set 30 mins different from the Fortis so that both schools traffic isn't happening and peaking at the same time. I use to live in that area and oh boy, made the mistake of driving by there at the wrong time :( IT IS very congested at drop off and pickup.

David Briegel

Fri, Apr 1, 2011 : 2:02 p.m.

And now the boogeyman is Sharia Law. Oh my. My god's law is better than your god's law! What else can we get to scare the white man to keep him from thinking of the economic disaster that has befallen our once proud nation caused by the Banksters? Not one of whom has gone to prison! How pathetic!?


Fri, Apr 1, 2011 : 3:48 p.m.

Adam,Yes Catholics are especially good at that.


Fri, Apr 1, 2011 : 2:15 p.m.

Why is are all issue black and white to you?


Fri, Apr 1, 2011 : 1:42 p.m.

There is something called the Bill of Rights and it happens to be part of the Constitution. As long as people comply with the law and regulations, I will stay out of their business.


Fri, Apr 1, 2011 : 1:25 p.m.

I'm all for anyone who wants to build a school and educate children. Where there are schools, there will be traffic twice a day for about a half an hour. The 10-20 seconds it may delay each driver during those half hours are not a huge price to pay, surely. By comparison, one can't drive at all in the square mile around the stadium for a period of about 6 hours during each home Michigan game. Let's not throw hurdles in their way.


Mon, Apr 4, 2011 : 4:05 a.m.

Dotdash - As a recent visitor to Fortis as a consultant, I spent 18 minutes by my clock on Ellsworth, waiting to turn left into the schools' driveway. There were 3 adults directing traffic, but there is simply not enough space for the drop offs and pick ups to happen without causing traffic to back up into the roadway, delaying those who are driving through the intersection.

Steve Pepple

Fri, Apr 1, 2011 : 1 p.m.

Several comments have been disabled pending further review.

longtime AA

Fri, Apr 1, 2011 : 5:43 a.m.

I often drive by Fortis in the afternoon, and have trouble getting through this area as it is now. I find it hard to believe a traffic study (paid for by the school) which says adding 40-50% more students/cars in this area will not increase traffic. In fact, before any schools are added, I would first like to see Fortis take care of adding lanes in front of their school and solving the traffic problems when students are dropped off and picked up. The other question is "Who will pay for the traffic island at Golfside and Ellsworth, and any other costs of the intersection?" I assume, as a religious school, that no property taxes will be paid, and that property (now zoned residential) will be permanently taken off the tax rolls. Just look at what is going on in the State budget, and no money coming to the local governments from Lansing, and every decision that is taken (and I am a Pittsfield Township resident) needs to be considered for these things. The Costco (which still may or may not be built, as with the proposed Menard's) at least will pay taxes and bring a large number of jobs.


Fri, Apr 1, 2011 : 12:40 p.m.

I certainly agree with your first claim, that FORTIS needs to take care of the traffic issue their school creates in the mornings and afternoons. My god, it's a charter school with no transportation service (buses) and enrollment over 750, which means a horde of vehicles descend and lock traffic on both Golfside and Ellsworth at drop-off and pick-up times! Before a new school is built across Golfside, township officials need to put an imprimatur on a comprehensive traffic solution that involves all three entities, the two schools and the township, that the two schools are primarily financially responsible for.

Matt Cooper

Fri, Apr 1, 2011 : 10:40 a.m.

Right. And of course the few hundred (or thousand) dollars this lot will bring in in taxes should straighten out Michigans budget shortfalls in no time. Right?

David Briegel

Fri, Apr 1, 2011 : 4:12 a.m.

How naive. Where do you think you live? In a society based on religous freedom? Silly! This is Christian America. Intolerant Christian America. Muslims don't have any rights to freedom in Christian America. Heck, All these TeaPublicans running around with a Constitution in their pocket can't even read and interpret the Constitution! American Christians are "uncomfortable" when it comes to the meaning of real freedom. Matt Cooper and Justice really understand. Look at the lack of tolerance in the other posts. We want to be compared to Syria. We just don't want to be compared to our own standards and ideals.

average joe

Fri, Apr 1, 2011 : 4:44 p.m.

Cash- Help me out here. Can you tell what verses in Luke & Deuteronomy instructs Chrisitians to kill non-Christians. I'm just curious, & want to know where to look.

Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball

Fri, Apr 1, 2011 : 3:39 p.m.

Further, in contemporary Islamic states - so thorough is the integration of the justice system and Church under Sharia law that Sharia courts are essentially religious courts; judges are usually local church (Mosque) officials.


Fri, Apr 1, 2011 : 3:21 p.m.

There is no one thing called Sharia. A variety of Muslim communities exist, and each understands Sharia in its own way. No official document, such as the Ten Commandments, encapsulates Sharia. It is the ideal law of God as interpreted by Muslim scholars over centuries aimed toward justice, fairness, and mercy. Sharia is overwhelmingly concerned with personal religious observance such as prayer and fasting, and not with national laws. Consider that 33% of Americans believe the Bible to be the literal word of God. But despite this, American Jews nevertheless resist stoning disobedient sons and Christians do not kill non-Christians, even though this is what Christians or Jews would do if they acted, respectively, on a literal reading Luke or Deuteronomy. Holy books have been used as a reason to commit atrocities over centuries. That's not new, nor is it exclusive to any one religion.

David Briegel

Fri, Apr 1, 2011 : 12:05 p.m.

I didn't condemn America. I love America. More importantly, I love what we once stood for. These votes are different than when I posted at midnight. And they represent the "liberal Ann Arborites" I suspect. And how many votes have been deleted? And Will, would you admit that there is a fairly large segment of mostly people from the right that realy does hate Muslims just for being, gasp, Muslim?

Will Warner

Fri, Apr 1, 2011 : 11:39 a.m.

David, as I write this I count 86 votes for support of the academy, and 22 for posts that question it. That is 4 to 1 in support. In light of this, could you relent just the tiniest bit in your condemnation of America?


Fri, Apr 1, 2011 : 3:39 a.m.

I support Michigan Islamic Academy's cause. If we take a moment to compare the USA and many other countries, we would discover major differences. Many people move to the US for a more liberated style of life, where they are not restricted by a country. In the US every person has the right to build a religious school, community center, etc. if they would like to do so! It frustrates me to see so much anger towards a peaceful religion. It is vital for each individual to take some time and understand another person's faith/practices. I'm glad that Michigan Islamic Academy took the initiative to reach out to the community, and consider their concerns. I'm saddened towards the lack of attendance as mentioned in the article. If anyone does oppose this whole idea, I welcome you to attend the meetings. After reading this atricle, it is obvious that they are open to all concerns and are willing to work with everyone! I wish them the best, and to every religion who wishes to build a center/school. Whether they practice Chrisitianity, Judaism, Buddhism, etc.

Basic Bob

Fri, Apr 1, 2011 : 2:31 a.m.

The idea of restricting turning and going straight at the intersection of Golfside and Ellsworth is a bit hokey. It reminds me of the disastrous intersection of State Road and Campus Parkway in front of Walmart. Traffic planning should be left up to professionals and not special interests. I know they got a great deal on the land and it is big enough, but I think there are better locations not so far away.

Matt Cooper

Fri, Apr 1, 2011 : 1:02 a.m.

Islam is not a race, it is a religion. You have no problem with Catholic private schools that have a Catholic curriculum, or Lutheran private schools that have a Lutheran curriculum, so why would you have a problem with Muslim schools that have a Muslim curriculum? Are these people not entitled to provide for their children the education they want to have for thise children just like the Catholics and Lutherans do?

Matt Cooper

Fri, Apr 1, 2011 : 1:04 a.m.

Secondly, Islam has black members, white members, asian members, arab members, and any other ethnicity you can think of. As do all Christian religions. Why the fear? Because they look different? Or because they have different beliefs than you do? Or because they are the "other" that you dislike simply because they aren't carbon copies of you?