Detroit Schools Transfer Buildings, Lots for Debt Forgiveness

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The Detroit Public School system has worked out an agreement with the City of Detroit to swap 57 vacant school buildings and 20 abandoned lots in exchange for the forgiveness of $11.6 million in district debt.

“This agreement is great for our neighborhoods and DPS schoolchildren,” Mayor Mike Duggan said. “It also recognizes that the city is better suited to addressing the important issue of neighborhood blight and redeveloping these properties in a way that is in harmony with the surrounding community.”

This agreement aligns with the city’s goal of cleaning up vacant commercial structures and thousands of vacant homes across the 139-square mile city, reports the Associated Press.

The city will conduct environmental reviews of each property. This is expected to take up to three months at a cost of around $2 million from Quality of Life funding approved for neighborhood blight removal, reports ABC News.

The 77 schools and lots take up over 241 acres of the city. 31 of the buildings are said to be secure and 26 are open, according to officials.

DPS emergency manager Jack Martin said protecting vacant schools from scrappers has been a challenge.

“While every effort has been made to sell or lease closed buildings, some of which have been shuttered for many years, we understand that we have a responsibility to be good stewards within the communities in which we own property,” he said.

After the buildings are assessed the ones deemed prohibitively expensive to clean up will be returned to DPS. At that point the school system can decide to offer another vacant property or reimburse the city the amount originally assigned to the property.

The vacant school buildings are a product of a significant drop in enrollment in the city. In 2002-03 the district had more than 156,000 students, which has fallen to ~47,000.

“The day is going to come when people move back into the city, and if the building is structurally sound, it is more appropriate to secure it than to demolish it,” Duggan said

Around a dozen of the vacant schools deemed the most dangerous are to be torn down by July. Duggan says they plan to secure 14-16 of the buildings to put to use in the future, writes Ann Zaniewski for Detroit Free Press.

City-maintained recreation areas will be made out of properties that still have viable playgrounds.

As part of the city’s project to eliminate blight it knows it will require young apprentices in the future to aid in the building of the new bridge to Canada and the Red Wings stadium. Those individuals can also be used to do the work to rebuild some of the school properties. With the funding available young men and women, ages 18-21 can be employed, reports Click on Detroit.

The $11.6 million dollars in debt that DPS accrued was in electric bills — and it’s not the first time utilities have presented a problem. Years ago DPS reached a settlement with the city lighting department. They paid $15 million and transferred a school building for use as a city police academy, but they quickly fell behind on payments again.