The Detroit school district unveiled Thursday night an ambitious $700 million proposal to rebuild schools, renovate buildings, reopen previously closed schools, expand pre-kindergarten programs, and address other long-delayed building needs.
Under the plan presented during a school board study session, the district could spend $281 million to rebuild five schools, another $296 million to renovate buildings, and $128 million to reopen previously closed schools, expand pre-K, build additions onto existing schools, and demolish or sell some vacant buildings.
Nikolai Vitti, superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools Community District, shared the first details of the district’s facilities master plan with the school board, offering board members the chance to review the proposals.
“It’s a collection of almost four to five years of thought, analysis … about how to place all of our students in a better facility,” Vitti told the board and audience during the meeting.
“We have never over the last two decades had a facility plan for the district. We have been using a bandage approach to our facilities district wide.”
As part of the $700 million plan, district officials are calling for rebuilding the following schools: Cody High School, Paul Robeson/Malcolm X Academy, Pershing High School, Carstens @Golightly, and Phoenix, a building that closed in 2016.
Meanwhile, a handful of school buildings, including Ann Arbor Trail, Sampson Webber, and Clark, would close, but not immediately. The district would phase out enrollment in those schools, eliminating a grade each year until the buildings are empty.
Here’s an overview of the proposal:
- The buildings set to be rebuilt are in high-demand neighborhoods that are underserved by DPSCD schools, according to the proposal. The current buildings are not in a “repairable state.”
- Seven buildings, including Northern High School and Vetal, that are vacant or underutilized will be reactivated and house expanded pre-kindergarten programs. These schools are also in high-demand areas underserved by DPSCD schools.
- Additions would be built at Charles Wright Academy, Communication and Media Arts High School, John R. King Academy, Western International High School, and Southeastern Career Technical Center.
- About a dozen active and closed buildings would either be sold or demolished. The active buildings include the schools that are on the closure list, as well as the following closed buildings: Post, Biddle, Poe, Van Zile, Carrie/Law, and Foch. It also includes one of the two buildings that house Greenfield Union.
- The district would “explore public-private partnerships to build a state-of-art athletic complex in the city.” The complex would include indoor and outdoor facilities for football, basketball, volleyball, soccer, baseball, track, and lacrosse. The district envisions it being a revenue generator because it would allow for the hosting of major tournaments.
The $700 million cost, which would be paid for using a large chunk of the district’s one-time federal COVID relief funds, is only a fraction of the $2.1 billion in building needs in the district.
The condition of buildings has been a sore spot for years, prompting teachers in 2016 to stage public protests to demand fixes. After nearly two decades of state control, the district in 2017 was faced with many buildings in disrepair or underutilized. After Vitti was hired in 2017, the district began making small but strategic repairs. That still left mounting building issues.
The special board meeting relaunched the district’s effort to address its building needs. A similar effort, which included a series of meetings from late 2019 to early 2020, was affected by the pandemic, which shut down school buildings in March 2020.
The proposal unveiled Thursday, Vitti said, pulled from the district’s initial 2018 facility audit, citywide population trends, school demand for programs, and projected investments in neighborhoods over the next 10-20 years. Thursday’s board meeting gave a broad overview of the facility projects Vitti and district leaders wish to address. Ahead of the study session, each board member could meet with Vitti one-on-one.
The full plan and a community survey is hosted on a district webpage, breaking down the district’s recommendations by “feeder pattern” areas, or the elementary and middle schools that channel students into that high school. Schools include:
- Central High School
- Cody High School
- Denby High School
- East English Village Preparatory Academy
- Henry Ford High School
- Martin Luther King Jr. Senior High School
- Detroit Collegiate Preparatory Academy at Northwestern
- Osborn High School
- Pershing High School
- Mumford High School
- Southeastern High School of Science and Technology
- Western International High School
During February and March, the district will conduct virtual community meeting sessions open initially to specific neighborhoods defined by their “feeder pattern” schools, as well as in-person community meetings open to the broader public. At these community meetings, the public will hear about the physical condition of buildings, learn more about the district’s recommendations, and offer feedback on the proposals.
The community sessions will be followed by a review period for district leaders and end with Vitti bringing final recommendations to the school board by May or June.
Board members responded to the plan with both criticism and praise over the district’s vision.
Sonya Mays, board member and chair of the district’s finance committee, questioned whether the current proposal and the district’s use of COVID relief money was ambitious enough.
“We are unlikely to get another economic shot like the one that we have in front of us,” Mays said.
“There’s a sense that we should be conservative and responsible with these limited dollars but I also believe this is our time to really push for something innovative. To me (the plan) represents an opportunity to really reimagine, in some form or fashion, how we are providing teaching and learning.”
Board Vice President Deborah Hunter-Harvill touted the work behind the district’s proposal, while pushing for the creation of a dedicated center for exceptional student education (ESE) students.
“I was pleased with what I heard,” Hunter-Harvill said. “We appreciate the work that’s been done with this facility master plan, and know the hours that have been spent, and I know the thinking that has gone into it.