DETROIT, MI (WXYZ) — The Detroit Public Schools Community District is being reimagined. Last week, the school board unanimously approved a $700 million plan that includes rebuilding five schools and reopening seven previously-closed schools over the next five years.
One of the schools set to be rebuilt is Pershing High School. It will be one of the district’s largest investments. The legacy school opened its doors in the 1930s and since then has seen generations of families graduate as doughboys.
“My uncle went here,” said alumn Vycina Ware, whose two granddaughters attend Pershing High School.
It’s hard for Principal Jonathan Matthews not to gush when he thinks about getting a new building.
“It is going to be the newest building east of seven mile for years,” Matthews said as he chatted with students in the hallway.
He’s worked in this district for 27 years and has been at Pershing for five years.
“It’s one thing to build a building downtown, but when you build into these communities and they know that they can use this every day and its part of their home, it changes the outlook. It gives them hope,” Matthews said.
Pershing is a neighborhood school; a lot of people who attend live close by. Ware says drop-off and pick-up always feels nostalgic.
“The school looks exactly the same as it did when I went there over 30 years ago, but it’s clean and it’s not torn up,” said Ware.
While it seems structurally sound on the outside, Pershing has a laundry list of problems according to Matthews.
He showed us eroding walls riddled with holes. He also says the school has a leaky roof. We saw paint that chips falling onto floors.
Students say the worst part is the faulty heating and cooling system.
“There’s a lot of old stuff in the building, the heating doesn’t work sometimes, the air and stuff needs to change,” said Andreya Thomas, a senior at Pershing School.
Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Viiti says improving district facilities was one of his main objectives when he signed on as superintendent.
He says $300 million will be distributed across the district to renovate facilities with a sharp focus on HVAC systems. In the end, 95% of schools will have air conditioning. Currently, only 35% have functioning cooling systems.
“It is going to be a combination of brand new buildings like here at Pershing, some additional wings, reactivating some. wings, but also a focus on Pre-K,” said Vitti.
He says Pershing has the capacity for 600 students, but just under 400 students are enrolled.
“There’s a lot of students that should attend Pershing that don’t attend Pershing because they aren’t comfortable with the building environment,” said Vitti.
Vitti says the total rebuild and demolition would cost around $60 million. The price of renovation would only be about $10 million dollars.
“If we just renovate the existing building, 10 years from now we will be back at the table saying, ‘Oh we need this investment because its the upkeep that’s associated with it,'” said Vitti.
Ware says her and other alumni don’t agree with the plan.
“Pershing is a historical building,” said Ware. “Don’t tear it down.”
For those heartbroken by the idea of demolition, Vitti says, “I completely understand, I mean I think everyone is attached to some kind of building.”
Vitti referencing his own devastation when the old Tiger stadium was torn down.
“When it was demolished, I cried,” said Vitti.
He said now that the board approved the plan the district is hoping to release a rendering of the building designs.
“We are going to do a lot of engagement with families, with the community, with students, and ask what should this building look like and what can we take from the old building and put in the new building in order to create that legacy,” said Vitti.
Junior Nevah Fisher says ultimately this is an upgrade and welcomed change.
“They are re-modeling Detroit and it’s looking better, you know cleaning stuff,” said Fisher, “so I feel like a new building would be an investment in the city.”
The new building will be finished before the old one is demolished so students will not be displaced.
Vitti says the project shouldn’t take more than 5 years. He says all of the district improvements are being funded through their $1.2 billion COVID-19 Relief Fund.