Nonprofit’s bid to buy Cooley High School stalls on Detroit’s west side

‘School board members have allowed it to become urban decay’

DETROIT – People in the community have waited more than 10 years for something good to come from the old Cooley High School.

They hoped that Life Remodeled would get the board’s approval to start its planned project to bring much-needed resources to the community, but that did not happen during Tuesday (Nov. 15) night’s meeting.

“Every single time something positive could’ve been done with Cooley, school board members have allowed it to continue to become one of Detroit’s largest monuments of urban decay,” said Life Remodeled founder and CEO, Chris Lambert.

Lambert had an offer on the table Tuesday as he expected the school board to vote to approve the sale of Cooley High School to his nonprofit.

The organization had big plans for the property as they spent the past three years speaking directly with residents about what they’d like to see there.

What they came up with was a community hub.

“Health and wellness services, youth programs, new job opportunities, we’ve signed nine agreements with nonprofits to lease over 80% of that space even before we’ve acquired it,” Lambert said. “It’s unbelievable how far the vision has come, and to see it get stalled by something so juvenile is mind-blowing.”

The Detroit Public Schools Community District pulled the vote to put that plan into action off the agenda.

“There were also concerns raised by financial committees and other board members that perhaps that we were underselling the property,” said DPSCD Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti. “The most recent appraisal came back at $930,000.”

The $930,000 is more than double of what was agreed upon by Life Remodeled and the district weeks earlier.

Residents who attended Tuesday’s meeting were not happy.

“So if these guys walk away, what will be next,” said a woman. “It’ll sit up another 10 years. We’ve been waiting 12 years, and y’all won’t even do the bare minimum. Y’all won’t even secure the property. So why won’t y’all let them get it if y’all not doing nothing with it?”

Charlotte Blackwell, a Cooley High School alum, neighbor, and advocate for the transformation of the building, says it’s disheartening.

“This project is so so important for us because we’ll be able to have a community hub, and with that, you know, that brings along economic development,” said Blackwell

She hopes the deal can be salvaged and that whatever happens, happens quickly.

“The main concern is that the school itself is in dire need of repair,” Blackwell said. “It won’t last much longer, so if things are continuing in the trajectory that they’re going, the building could be lost.”

Lambert says it’s a bait and switch that’s left many residents hanging and, again, waiting to see what’s next.

“It’s not good business, right,” Lambert said. “The reason we will come back to the table is because community members and alumni have asked us to, and we will give it one more shot.”

About the Authors:

Pamela Osborne is thrilled to be back home at the station she grew up watching! You can watch her on Local 4 News Sundays and weeknights. Pamela joined the WDIV News Team in February 2022, after working at stations in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Brandon Carr is a digital content producer for ClickOnDetroit and has been with WDIV Local 4 since November 2021. Brandon is the 2015 Solomon Kinloch Humanitarian award recipient for Community Service.