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Detroit’s historic Kettering High School property could get new life housing auto suppliers for new Jeep plant

A view from inside the closed Kettering High School shows the big blue "K" that sits outside the building.
A view from inside the closed Kettering High School shows the big blue "K" that sits outside the building.
Brook Ward/Flickr

The big blue “K” will likely be preserved, but the property that housed the old Kettering High School in Detroit is on its way to being sold.

School officials said at a recent meeting that a deal is on the table to sell the property for $2.6 million to the city.

The sale would cover the cost of Kettering and the nearby Rose Elementary School property. Kettering closed in 2012 and Rose closed in 2006.

They are among a number of properties housing old schools that the district must decide whether to hold onto or sell. The sale of these two properties, for instance, will give the district additional revenue to complete capital revenue projects across the district. That’s crucial given the district has more than $500 million in facility needs. The district has been looking for broader solutions to address facility needs. Next year’s budget includes spending nearly $10 million in reserve funding to address repairs at nearly 50 schools.

Both properties have sustained significant vandalism, the district says. A video posted last year on YouTube showed how the Kettering building, which opened in 1965, has been damaged by vandals and scrappers.

Detroit Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said at a May 24 meeting of the school board’s finance committee that the property would be linked in some way to the construction of the new Fiat Chrysler Automobiles plant in Detroit. The plant would be located several miles away from the Kettering property. The school is located on the city’s east side, at Van Dyke and I-94.

Kenyetta Bridges, executive vice president at the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, said the district property would not be part of the FCA plant. But, she said the economic growth corporation “wanted it for land assembly to position the city to attract potential suppliers for the FCA plant.”

Vitti said there’s been interest in the property since it closed, but earlier offers were low. The district did an updated appraisal, which put the value at $2.3 million, after the announcement was made about the potential FCA investment. Vitti said the value of the property increased after that announcement.

Lori Higgins/Chalkbeat

The deal to build the plant became official last month.

“We would have sold it at a much lower cost if we hadn’t held onto it,” Vitti said. The current sale price, he said, is “more reflective of what the property is worth.”

Board member Sonya Mays said she has pushed the district to be more strategic in selling property. By seeking an updated appraisal that took into account property across the city, the district was able to get a higher appraisal.

“In general urban school districts own and control some of the most valuable land in the city,” Mays said. And with all the development happening in the city, she said, “We as stewards of public land should be thoughtful about how we leverage that value.”

Mays said she’s comfortable with the sale, but encouraged Vitti to have more detailed information about how the property would be used before it goes to the full board for its approval.

Board member Misha Stallworth urged the district to preserve the large blue “K” sign that has stood outside the school for years.

“If there’s a way to keep that K, that would be really smart,” Stallworth said.

Mays said she would push a step forward and say the district should look for every opportunity when selling property to “repurpose and honor what was there before.”

“Don’t throw away the K,” she said.

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