Community committee forms to save old Eastern High School and support mental health

Group comes together after U of M Health-Sparrow proposes psychiatric facility at the possible cost of the landmark building


FRIDAY, June 21 — Alumni of old Eastern High School, eastsiders and preservationists have formed a committee to work with the University of Michigan Health–Sparrow to ensure the preservation of the landmark classroom building on Pennsylvania Avenue.

The Committee to Preserve Historic Eastern and Promote Mental Health met for the first time yesterday to discuss ways of cooperating with the health system in bringing a new psychiatric facility to Lansing. The health system confirmed two weeks ago that it wants to construct a 120-bed mental-health building on old Eastern’s campus, which is adjacent to its Michigan Avenue hospital.

Its statement suggested that the classroom building and auditorium were in danger of being demolished to make room for the psychiatric facility. Sparrow Health System bought 18 acres of old Eastern’s campus in 2016, including the building. The Lansing School District closed old Eastern in 2019. U of M Health acquired Sparrow in 2022.

“We agree that our community needs more mental-health beds and applaud U of M Health-Sparrow for proposing a new facility here,” said 1st Ward City Council member Ryan Kost, who helped organize the new committee. “At the same time, we also believe that this architecturally important building that graduated tens of thousands of Lansing residents must be preserved.

“We want to work together to accomplish both goals.”

Acting on the committee’s behalf, Kost requested a meeting today with Margaret Dimond, president of U of M’s regional health system. Kost said he was told the soonest Dimond will be available is the week of July 8 because of travel plans.

U of M Health-Sparrow’s June 7 statement stopped short of saying it will tear down old Eastern to make room for a psychiatric facility.

“The high school has been closed for years and its dilapidated interior makes it unsafe and cost-prohibitive to locate any services there,” it said.

U of M Health-Sparrow spokesperson John Foren declined to elaborate on the statement when he was asked if the health system planned to tear down old Eastern. The health system has not said anything since.

The same statement said that 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.”

Kost said on a Facebook page he has created called Friends of Historic Eastern High School that he has learned that the health system was considering creating a “memorial garden” to commemorate the old school. The Facebook site has grown to 839 followers in less than two weeks.

Sparrow paid $2.475 million for the school property. Near the end of the sales agreement, a clause called “Preservation of Historical Value” states: “Purchaser shall develop a plan, which in Purchaser's reasonable discretion protects and preserves the historical value of the Property. Purchaser agrees to engage high quality contractors who will themselves employ high quality, local skilled trades-people that realize the significance of delivering its project.”

Kost and Berl Schwartz, editor and publisher of City Pulse, organized yesterday’s meeting. Also attending were Jim Lynch, president of the Eastern High School Alumni Association, and his wife, Kittie, a retired teacher at Eastern; Joan Nelson, the retired founding executive director of the Allen Neighborhood Center, and her successor, Joe Enerson; Preservation Lansing President Mary Toshach and Dale Schrader, Preservation Lansing’s former president; Eastside Neighborhood Organization President Nancy Mahlow; and Bill Castanier, president of the Historical Society of Greater Lansing.

Also attending were eastside resident Jennie Grau, president of Grau Interpersonal Communication, which specializes in conflict management skills; retired Eastern alumna Rebecca Stimson, a communications specialist; and Andrew Muylle, an Eastern alumnus.

The University of Michigan Board of Regents will have the final say on plans to build a psychiatric facility.


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