Detroit To Tear Down 14 Schools


Cass Technical High School, the Detroit school attended by Diana Ross, Lily Tomlin, and automaker John DeLorean, is slated for demolition. Earlier this month, Detroit Public Schools announced that it would begin tearing down 14 vacant schools, including Cass Tech, which has been empty since 2005. To pay for the demolitions, the school system says it will use about $33 million from bond programs approved by voters in 1994 and again in November.

"Vacant schools across Detroit have been blights on the community and safety hazards for far too long," said Robert C. Bobb, Detroit Public Schools' emergency financial manager, in a Dec. 7 statement. "Thanks to the taxpayers of Detroit … we can now move forward with substantially changing the landscape of the city and remove these long-standing eyesores."

Locals were not surprised to see 1922 Cass Tech on the list, considering that Detroit Public Schools has not adequately protected the building from vandals; it caught fire in 2007 and has been stripped of its copper.

"I think the decision was made about this building quite some time ago," says Karen Nagher, executive director of Preservation Wayne. "This is definitely a demolition by neglect. In the last 18 to 24 months, the deterioration and the break-ins have accelerated. The building is not secured. All the windows are open now—to people and the elements."

But Detroit Public Schools faces a potential hurdle: Earlier this year, 93 public schools in Detroit were designated eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, including Cass Tech and four others on the list of doomed schools.

Officials will have to tread carefully to avoid any federal involvement in certain demolitions, says Debra Goldstein of the Detroit City Council's Historic Designation Advisory Board, which is preparing the National Register nomination for a meeting in May. (If federal money will be used to demolish a building eligible for the list, a Section 106 evaluation and review process is required first.)

"We're trying to figure out here what kind of money is being spent on the demolition," Goldstein says. "There are a lot of questions."

Nagher suggests that the 831,000-square-foot building be converted to senior housing. An alumni group has contracted a developer to renovate the building as lofts, shops, offices, and theater space.

"You've got to spend $6 million to destroy it, and you're going to be left with a property that in this economy is not going to be very attractive," says Ray Litt, chairman of the 8,000-member Cass Tech Alumni Association. Litt's group says Detroit Public Schools' cost estimates for renovating Cass Tech are inflated. "They were hell-bent to not use the old building and build a new one."

Cass Tech, founded in the 1860s, still exists in a new building nearby.

"Cass Tech was an icon for the Detroit community. It was an alternative school before there were alternative schools," says Nancy Finegood, executive director of the Michigan State Historic Preservation Network, whose father-in-law, now 83, attended Cass Tech. "It was the school that truly saved his life because he was going nowhere. …. This school has been so significant for the entire city, [but] the city of Detroit doesn't take very good care of its buildings."

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Submitted by Dave S. at: August 8, 2010
How long is the building suppose to stay up decaying? 10 years, 20 years, 50 years? Its been five years already and there is no viable plan for the future. Does it take for some current female Cass Tech student to be dragged in the abandon building and raped for some of you to realize that its not a good idea to have an abandoned building next to a school. You also have to consider that not many businesses are excited about locating next door to a high school. DPS From my understanding the original plan was to tear the school down and build a baseball field. Of course adults alway put their interest in front of the children. Please let it go and tear the school down.

Submitted by Andrew|W at: May 11, 2010
Demolition is supposedly complete for one school and has definitely started on two others. If there is one positive, it is that the list has now been shortened to 10, and Cass Tech. is no longer in immediate danger.

Submitted by Brian at: January 26, 2010
Perhaps they can build a new building somewhere in Detroit (or elsewhere) using this photo as the inspiration. In fact there could be a dozen loft apartment buildings built across the country using this as a model. Then this destruction won't be so pointless.

Submitted by Anonymous at: January 21, 2010
What eyesore? I don't see any eyesore!

Submitted by Anonymous at: January 13, 2010
As usual, the City of Detroit's firt and only choice is always demolition. This is another example of its public destruction, by a group of public officials with no vision of any kind for this once-vital city's future. Its residents and taxpayers deserve better. Cathy Galbraith Bosco-Milligan Foundation/Architectural Heritage center Portland, OR

Submitted by Andrew|W at: December 23, 2009
Sadly, Cass Tech High School was in almost pristine condition 3 years ago, before people started to get in. It now looks even worse then the picture above shows. The windows are not simply now all open; they are completely gone. As another note, I noticed in this blog: that Jane Cooper Elementary has now been demolished. I can only guess that this abandoned school was part of the planned 14. A few pictures of Jane Cooper School from one year ago can be found here: This school probably was a lost cause, not only because of its condition - I believe it still had good structural integrity - but because it's entire neighborhood for several blocks in all directions had already been leveled long before to make way for an industrial development that never happened. Again, buildings in Detroit that are not properly secured deteriorate unbelievably fast. While I was conducting an urban study on the area in February 2008, Jane Cooper Elementary still looked like the day it had been vacated. In the eight months between my visit and when the second blog pictures were taken, vandals and scrappers ransacked and stole anything of value.

Submitted by WilliamE at: December 23, 2009
This is shocking to learn. Diana Ross went to high school??? Just kidding. It's a crime to destroy a fine building like this.

Submitted by Brian at: December 18, 2009
That enormous school building looks amazing! What a horrible shame.