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Community members work to preserve former Eastern High School

The cover photo for the Facebook group "Friends of Historic Eastern High School"
Courtesy Ryan Kost
The near century-old campus may be demolished to make way for a psychiatric facility in a proposal by U-M-Sparrow Health System.

A new committee is working to preserve the former Eastern High School campus after University of Michigan-Sparrow announced a 120-bed mental health facility on the site.

The announcement, made June 7, outlined the health system’s plans to locate the facility on 1215 E. Michigan Ave, which a U-M-Sparrow spokesperson said had a “dilapidated interior.”

Now a new committee of historians, preservationists and community members are working together to engage with the health system in discussions about preserving the former high school campus that was built in 1928.

The Committee to Preserve Historic Eastern and Promote Mental Health has garnered steady support online — the group set up a Facebook group that now has more than a thousand members.

“This is a landmark for the city, it has stood the test of time,” Lansing City Councilmember Ryan Kost said in an interview with WKAR, adding that his grandparents attended the high school.

“We’ve had generations of my family and I’ve met generations of other families who have gone to that school.”

Kost, who helped start the Facebook group, said that he and all members of the committee welcome the idea of more mental health care but are wary of construction plans that would wipe out the school’s history.

“This architecture inside is one of a kind and this was when schools were built with some kind of beauty and not just an L-shape with straight hallways,” Kost said, pointing out that the building was designed by renowned Chicago-based architectural firm Pond and Pond. “It's an architectural gem. And it’s worth preserving.”

Mary Toschach, president of Preservation Lansing, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the history and culture of the city, says she hopes the health system will find ways to integrate medical infrastructure into the building instead of demolishing this site.

“Many people would say we’re being railroaded and we’re trying to work with the hospital and U-of-M to find a solution to rehab the place, something that preserves the facade alongside the school,” Toschach said.

Toschach and Kost reiterated the cost of tearing down the reinforced steel buildings, saying that the building was not as deteriorated as the health system claims it was.

The sale of Eastern High School, which sits on 18 acres of land, was finalized in 2016, years before Sparrow and U-M Health System merged. A verbal agreement to preserve the building was made between the Lansing Board of Education and Sparrow. After the health system’s merger, the organizers with the Committee to Preserve Historic Eastern and Promote Mental Health worry that promise will not carry over.

Representatives from the University of Michigan and the Lansing-based health system have not reached out to talk to the committee, according to the preservation group.

The fate of the old Eastern High School will be decided by the U-M Board of Regents.

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