Written by Brenna Moloney
Figuring out what to do with empty school buildings is a major preservation conundrum in shrinking cities. The issue isn't one of figuring out what to do with one or two obsolete old buildings once the school district decides to build a new high school somewhere else. The issue goes beyond that and can reach almost epidemic levels. This is true of the two cities I work in for the National Trust and the Michigan Historic Preservation Network.
In Saginaw, Michigan, there are about 11 vacant public schools and many more vacant private school buildings. In Lansing, Michigan, the school board is currently debating which of the city’s two major high schools, Eastern or Sexton, is to be closed. With crushing budget constraints, a burgeoning private charter school market, and shrinking populations, these cities can no longer afford the level of educational infrastructure that they currently have and are looking to rightsize.
Lansing's Art Moderne-style Sexton High School. (Photo: redmudball on Flickr)
In addition, many of these buildings are architectural gems. Built in the early 1940s, Sexton High School is an Art Moderne building with curved yellow brick walls and stunning craft tile details on the interior. Opened in the city center in 1928, Lansing's Collegiate Gothic-style Eastern High School sports a copper cupola and gutters, carved arch windows and a slate roof. Additionally, they are both irreplaceable neighborhood anchors and once one of them goes, there is no telling what the future of the neighborhood may hold.... Read More →