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U-M Health-Sparrow proposes psychiatric hospital at former Lansing high school

Eli Newman

University of Michigan Health-Sparrow is proposing to build a $97 million mental health facility at the former Lansing Eastern High School.

The announcement made Friday includes plans to ask the state to approve 120 additional behavioral health beds for the site, which U-M Health-Sparrow says will help to serve the more than 1.7 million Michiganders living with mental health issues.

The former high school campus is located next to Sparrow’s main hospital and emergency department on 1215 E. Michigan Ave.

“The proximity to the hospital is crucial as the complex needs of behavioral health patients are best served by being close to the U-M Health-Sparrow Lansing emergency department,” the health system said in a statement.

The more than 98,000 square foot space includes using the former school’s unused spaces as dining rooms, gyms and outdoor yards.

Deborah Ann Stuart is a social worker in Lansing and has been a therapeutic recreational specialist for more than 40 years. She says an increase in the number of crisis care beds would be a win for mental health services.

“It could greatly benefit not only the Lansing community but Michigan itself. It's very essential that people remain safe and have factors such as emergency services and intensive inpatient services,” Stuart said in an interview with WKAR.

Stuart, who provides art therapy as a form of social and mental health intervention, says the U-M Health-Sparrow space will only be as good as its uses, and hopes to see more programs to help patients actively participate in society if they had not been previously.

“Often I've found whether it's small acts of volunteering, that's often a starting point to them developing more confidence in themselves,” Stuart said.

Though the proposed expansion could increase access to mental health services, the construction of the facility has spurred concern about the 96-year-old high school campus.

The Lansing school board voted to sell the school to the Sparrow Hospital Association for $2.5 million in 2016.

The former high school had been closed for years and was described by U-M-Sparrow spokesperson as having a “dilapidated interior.” The health system said they would be working with community members to preserve the site of the school and will be sending a proposal to U-M’s Board of Regents.

Scott Bean, a spokesperson for Lansing Mayor Schor, says the mayor has “talked to UM Health Sparrow leadership several times about the importance of this building and what it means to so many in our community,” adding that he expects the health system “will share with the community the cost differential between rehab and demolition" as it looks to preserve the former school.

The hospital system plans to refine its proposal for the old Lansing Eastern High School site over the next few months.

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