Detroit’s main school district is considering spending nearly $1 million to assess the quality of the aging buildings that house its 106 schools.
Superintendent Nikolai Vitti has talked since arriving in Detroit last spring about the need for the district to review the conditions of its buildings as it makes decisions about which buildings need renovations — and which ones might need to be closed.
Many school buildings are in serious disrepair — a problem that became a national story two years ago when so many teachers called in sick to protest school conditions that most district schools cancelled classes.
Many buildings are also half empty, meaning dollars that could be used to educate children are instead going toward heating empty hallways. But closing schools could exacerbate challenges for families in a city where many children live in neighborhoods without quality school options.
The Detroit school board on Tuesday is expected to vote on a $945,000 contract with a Livonia-based engineering and architecture firm called OHM Advisors to conduct a review of district properties — approximately 12.2 million square feet of real estate across the city, plus surrounding parking lots, playgrounds and sports fields.
According to documents posted by the district ahead of the board’s vote, the firm would start work this month and produce a detailed report by June spelling out repairs needed for each school building, the cost of those repairs and the “probable remaining useful life” of the buildings.
“For nearly a decade, Detroit Public Schools was led by emergency managers. Decisions made during this time were primarily driven by short-term, crisis management, and asset reduction … [that] … lacked creativity and strategic planning,” district staff wrote in documents that recommend the board approve the contract.
This contract, the staffers wrote, would “provide a roadmap for strategic reinvestment in schools and neighborhoods.”
The documents indicate that another company, Plante Moran Cresa, submitted a bid for the job that was approximately $400,000 less than OHM Advisors’ bid. The district staff recommended OHM because its proposal “offered a more independent, modern, and national facility review model to provide a comprehensive yet usable long-term assessment for the district.”
Staff wrote that “simply selecting the firm with the lower cost will not yield the data the district needs in this most important process.”
The school board, which plans to meet Tuesday at 5 p.m. at Osborn High School, also plans to vote on a major insurance contract and on a tool for evaluating principals. Also on the agenda is a new policy for naming schools that could eventually lead to new names for Detroit schools currently named after living people. Among them is the Ben Carson High School for Science and Medicine, which is named for the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.