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The former Anna M. Joyce Elementary School has sat vacant since it was closed by the district in 2009. A charter school has been blocked from buying it.

The former Anna M. Joyce Elementary School has sat vacant since it was closed by the district in 2009. A charter school has been blocked from buying it.

After legal fight with the Detroit district, local charter Detroit Prep is ‘back full force’ working on the building

The leader of a charter school that has been battling the Detroit district over a property says she expects her school to move into its new home in December.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a pro-free market think tank that has ties to the family of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, released a promotional video on Wednesday highlighting its support of Detroit Prep, an elementary charter school. The video offers an update on the building that the charter school hopes to occupy by December.

“We are back full force, working on the building,” Kyle Smitley, the co-founder and executive director of Detroit Prep said in the video. “Our architects are here regularly, our contractors are here regularly. We are behind schedule but everyone’s working really hard to pick up the pace.”

District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said final sale documents have “not yet” been signed but said he is not aware of “major issues” still holding up the sale. 

The building is currently owned by a private developer who bought it from the district in 2014.

The school, currently located in Indian Village, operates out of a church basement and serves 75 students. Smitley wanted to move her school to the vacant Joyce Elementary School because she plans to add a grade level every year, and the larger space allows for that.

The sale drew national attention as it ran into problems last year when Detroit Prep tried to buy the elementary school, which had been owned by the Detroit district. The purchase was prevented because of a deed restriction added to the property when the district sold it to a developer.

“It was a way to avoid competition,” said Jason Gourley in the video, the pro bono lawyer and Detroit Prep parent who took on the case. Detroit Prep filed suit against the district last year.

But Vitti said the district gave up the legal fight after Gov. Rick Snyder in January signed legislation giving a major boost to Detroit Prep, making deed restriction language much more clear.

“As a district, we defended the right of Detroit taxpayers and voters to determine the use of their community’s assets,” Vitti said in an email.

The bill clarified language making it illegal for government entities, including school districts, to use deed restrictions to prevent educational institutions from acquiring former school buildings.

Watch the video below.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story reported that renovations are underway at the school. Smitley informed Chalkbeat after this story was published that renovations had not yet begun. (Smitley did not respond to a request from Chalkbeat for comment before publication of the initial story). The story also has been updated to better reflect the status of the building sale.