Ted Strunck, with a billowy head of white hair and twinkling eyes, wants you to vote for the restoration of the McGregor Public Library in Highland Park. In fact, he wants you to vote once a day every day until midnight on May 12, specifically for a grant from the USA Today’s “A Community Thrives” initiative to help reopen the 91-year old institution.
Last year, Strunck, a resident of Royal Oak, started a one-man exploratory mission to find out the condition of the library roof, wanting to make sure the building wouldn’t fall into total disrepair. As a licensed contractor (and a school teacher and a musician), Strunck knew a bad roof would be an express train to permanent, irreversible damage and the rapid demise of the iconic landmark. Getting information about the building from the City of Highland Park was difficult at first; it took him several attempts to reach the right person at the understaffed city hall.
His call was returned by Yvette Robinson, director of community and economic development for the city, who agreed to meet with him. And when they met, she let Strunck know that a new roof was put on the building five or six years back. But the mold situation was bad.
Knowing the roof was okay, “I figured I’d let it go,” says Strunck, who is semi-retired. “But I kept thinking about it.”
At this point, Strunck started working with native Detroiter Joe Rashid of ioby, who loved the idea of re-opening the library. They began promoting the project, with a huge response from people who love the building and want to see it reopen. They created a Facebook group to share information.
In the meantime, Strunck found out that there had been an environmental assessment done in 2010 that had uncovered lead paint and asbestos.
Not one for taking the slow, careful route, Strunck met with Robinson again and asked her directly if she, indeed, really wanted to preserve the building. She did.
When Rashid and Strunck heard about the grant contest through A Community Thrives, which funds ideas and creative solutions to community problems pitched by individuals using video, they decided to apply.
They created a video, but needed two crucial pieces before they could submit it: 1) a nonprofit fiduciary and 2) the city’s approval. Strunck enlisted Upland Hills School in Oxford, where he still teaches part-time, as the fiduciary. He sent the video link to Robinson, and she showed it to the mayor, who approved it. The McGregor Library Preservation project officially entered the contest minutes before the deadline on April 12.
Success will entirely depend on how many people vote before May 12. Strunck is pounding the pavement to spread the word on social media and in person. He attended a Highland Park City Council meeting three weeks ago and gave his spiel.
“I told them, ‘I’m here to ask two things: Is Highland Park in favor of helping this library, and can we get information out about voting on this grant?’”
The mayor agreed to both. The people present were excited, some even applauded, and others approached him afterward to share their email addresses to have him send the link to vote.
"It’s the building that I love, that I want to preserve,” says Strunck. “That said, it could be a boost to the entire community to get it up and running.”
Strunck knows that building remediation is just the start of plenty of work and planning needed to reopen the McGregor Library in a town that doesn’t have the funds to operate it. But he believes that, with creativity, the project can be sustained.
He envisions community workshops, building tours, and a wedding venue – perfect with the structure’s classical Roman design – and a list of other ideas as tall as the full travel mug of coffee that Strunck always seems to be carrying.
Humble in his mission, Strunck says, “I guess it just shows what an average Joe can do that has time, but no connections.”
Learn more here.
This article is part of Michigan Nightlight, a series of stories about the programs and people that positively impact the lives of Michigan kids. It is made possible with funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Read more in the series here.
Note: 5/18/17 This article has been amended to correct inaccuracies describing Strunck's interaction with city staff.