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Lansing urges UM Health-Sparrow to preserve Eastern High School

The cover photo for the Facebook group "Friends of Historic Eastern High School"
Courtesy Ryan Kost
The cover photo for the Facebook group "Friends of Historic Eastern High School"

The Lansing City Council is urging the University of Michigan Health-Sparrow to preserve a historic high school as it looks to expand mental health care in the area.

The hospital system is planning to construct a $97 million psychiatric facility at the site of old Eastern High School. UM Health-Sparrow said that plan would require demolition of the nearly 100-year-old school building.

The Lansing School District sold Eastern to the hospital system in 2016, and the building held its last year of classes before being closed in 2019.

Several community members are calling on the hospital to build the facility while preserving the school.

Lansing City Councilmember Ryan Kost introduced a resolution asking officials to keep the building in mind.

“Our history is just as important as it is in Ann Arbor, where they preserve their history quite frequently and have landmarks like the Big House," Kost said during the council's meeting Monday. "Eastern is one of our landmarks.”

UM Health-Sparrow's proposal would construct a 120-bed facility, and the hospital says the project would serve more than 1.7 million Michiganders facing mental health issues.

City Council President Jeremy Garza said he understands the need for expanded mental health services.

“I definitely do not want to stand in the way of a $100 million private investment," he said. "But I will support the resolution as you are encouraging them to preserve what they can with the high school.”

John Foren, a UM Health-Sparrow spokesperson, said in a statement that the hospital system cannot convert the Eastern High School building into a hospital as the facility has degraded over the years.

"The former EHS building was built with the intention to serve students and teachers nearly 100 years ago — not to meet the modern behavioral health needs of our community," he said. "Converting the existing former EHS building to a state-of-the-art behavioral health hospital is not possible.

"As planning continues, UM Health-Sparrow is committed to continuing an open dialogue and keeping our community updated and informed. It will require all of us working together to address our local behavioral health crisis."

The project awaits approval from the University of Michigan Board of Regents and state officials.

Arjun Thakkar is WKAR's politics and civics reporter.
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