Fate of old Eastern HS building uncertain as U of M-Sparrow plans psychiatric facility

Proposal 'designed to help address the behavioral health crisis'


(This story has been updated to include comments from Lansing Mayor Andy Schor, 1st Ward Council member Ryan Kost, Preservation Lansing former President Dale Schrader and Bill Castanier, president of the Historical Society of Greater Lansing.)

(Also, this story was updated to correct information. The previous story incorrectly referred to Dale Schrader as president of Preservation Lansing.)

FRIDAY, June 7 — University of Michigan Health-Sparrow is planning to convert the old Eastern High School into a psychiatric facility — but the fate of the 96-year-old building is uncertain.

“The high school has been closed for years and its dilapidated interior makes it unsafe and cost prohibitive to locate any services there,” U of M-Sparrow spokesperson John Foren said in a statement today. He declined to elaborate. “It’s still early, and the Board of Regents will have final say.

Crain’s Grand Rapids Business Monthly first reported the story, saying the proposed facility would cost $97.2 million. Foren said he could not confirm the cost or any details beyond his written statement.

Sparrow bought the school in 2016 for about $2.5 million. The Lansing School District closed it in 2019. It is on Pennsylvania Avenue adjacent to Sparrow Hospital.

Lansing Mayor Andy Schor issued a statement today praising U of M-Sparrow's plan, but it made no reference to the possibility that the school may be torn down. 

Asked by phone why Schor did not address that issue, spokesperson Scott Bean said the mayor had no position.

"They own it," Bean added. "We are waiting to hear their plans and thoughts."

However, a few minutes later, Bean texted City Pulse to say:

"I should add that the mayor would be disappointed to see Eastern come down. He appreciates that UM Sparrow is engaging the neighborhood and alumni on the future plans. He’d love to see that building be reused somehow. He’s also very happy to see expanded behavioral health services."

 Lansing City Council member Ryan Kost, who represents the ward that includes the hospital and the school campus, promised to fight demolition "tooth and nail."

But he also said,  "We don't have a leg to stand on, because it's an agreement with the school district. And the school district, as I understand it, never put any language in there to stop them from doing this eventually,” Kost said. 

Citing U of M-Sparrow's statement about the building's condition, Kost added, "I want to talk about it because we've seen so many historic buildings in Lansing go. But the conversation always starts with, ‘We're thinking about doing something, but we haven't set anything in stone.’ So, when I hear they might tear it down, I have a strong feeling that that's the direction they're headed.” 

Bill Castanier, who heads the Historical Society of Greater Lansing, agreed with Kost about the import of the statement's wording. He called the possibility of demolition "appalling."

Dale Schrader, former president of Preservation Lansing, said, “It feels like a betrayal. This is horrible. Any preservationist in Lansing, everyone who cares about history and old buildings, I think they'll all say it’s a shame that that's happening,” Schrader said.

It’s just a horrible loss,” Schrader added. "Last I heard, it was going to be used, perhaps by Sparrow, for some sort of training facility or something like that. I like the idea of maybe preserving the facade along Pennsylvania.

“We need to call on the community, if this is not a done deal, to demonstrate how important this preserving, at least parts of this building, are to the community of Lansing." 

Eastside Neighborhood Organization leader Nancy Mahlow declined comment, saying she wanted to talk to U of M-Sparrow officials first.

Foren explained the health organization's rationale in a written statement.

"With approximately 1.7 million Michigan residents having mental health conditions, University of Michigan Health has filed certificate of need requests with the state for additional behavioral health beds for adults and adolescents,” the health organization's statement said.

“The requests are part of an early planning and evaluation stage for an eventual proposal contingent on approval by the U-M Board of Regents. U-M Health’s plan is designed to help address the behavioral health crisis by using the site of the former Lansing Eastern High School, which adjoins UM Health-Sparrow Lansing. The high school has been closed for years and its dilapidated interior makes it unsafe and cost prohibitive to locate any services there.

“The proximity to the hospital is crucial as the complex needs of behavioral health patients are best served by being close to the UM Health-Sparrow Lansing emergency department.

“Nearly 140 adult patients and about 17 adolescents sit in Michigan emergency department waiting rooms every day waiting for appropriate services. In addition, 60 percent of patients admitted to the emergency department for behavioral health needs are waiting for a bed to become available. The U-M Health plan seeks state approval for 120 behavioral health beds.

“U-M Health plans a variety of ways to preserve the history and value of Lansing Eastern, understanding the community’s connection to the school. U-M Health plans to work closely on the plan with school alumni and community members in the next few months before a final proposal is put forth to the Board of Regents.”

Schor's prepared statement said, "We need to work with akk f our partners to try to address the mental health issues of our region.

"UM Medical's increase in behavioral health bd capacity here in Lansing will address a tremendous need in our city, region and state."

His statement ended with "Go Blue!" Schor is a U-of-M graduate.


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