U of M Health-Sparrow says demolishing old Eastern is its only option

Health system says the landmark building is unsuited for a proposed psychiatric facility


THURSDAY, July 4 — Old Eastern High School must be demolished to make room for a psychiatric facility, U of M Health-Sparrow has declared.

“The former EHS building was built with the intention to serve students and teachers nearly 100 years ago — not to meet the modern behavioral health needs of our community,” spokesperson John Foren said in a statement sent to City Pulse. “Converting the existing former EHS building to a state-of-the-art behavioral health hospital is not possible.”

Labeled a “Media Statement,” Foren said in an email that it was a reply to a request to comment on a proposed City Council resolution that urges the health system to address mental-health needs without destroying the landmark 1928 building on Pennsylvania Avenue adjacent to U of M-Sparrow Hospital. The Council is expected to vote Monday on the resolution, which Council member Ryan Kost authored.

Kost, whose eastside ward comprises both the hospital and the old Eastern classroom building and auditorium, was not immediately available for comment.

This marks the first time that U of M has said definitively that the school building cannot be spared for the project since it announced the proposal June 7. U of M Health-Sparrow wants to build a 120-bed, $97.2 million psychiatric facility. The U of M Board of Regents will make the final decision, pending approval by the state, the new statement said.

“After significant vetting, it’s clear that the former EHS site is the only site in Lansing that is appropriate for the behavioral health facility our community needs. No other available sites in Lansing meet these essential criteria,” the statement said.

The school closed in 2019 after the Lansing School District sold Sparrow 18 acres of the campus, including the building, in 2016.

“To build the best-in-class behavioral health facility Lansing deserves," the U of M statement contends, "several things are required: proximity to the Sparrow Emergency Department, proximity to public transportation, ample acreage for the outdoor programming and an internal layout that supports the safety of patients and care teams, as well as the needs of patients requiring differing levels of care."

“We understand the community’s connection to Lansing Eastern, and UM Health-Sparrow has committed to working closely with EHS alumni and community members to ensure we meaningfully honor the history and value of the school,” the statement said.

“We are still in the very early planning stage for this proposal. As planning continues, UM Health-Sparrow is committed to continuing an open dialogue and keeping our community updated and informed. It will require all of us working together to address our local behavioral health crisis.”

Kost has said on Facebook that he has learned that U of M's plan for memorializing old Eastern is a garden.

The proposed resolution encourages U of M to move forward on the proposed 120-bed facility but that doing so and saving Eastern “are not mutually exclusive.” It points out the growing number of schools in Lansing, the state and elsewhere that have been repurposed.

The resolution describes old Eastern as “one of only a few buildings” of historic significance “left standing in the City of Lansing that has been well preserved and became a landmark for Lansing much like ‘The Big House’ is in Ann Arbor.”

The resolution suggests that most of the school could be repurposed as a psychiatric facility, while the 1,660-seat auditorium would provide space "for development, training, and education for the staff of U of M Health-Sparrow and the community."

Kost has argued that U of M has many options for a psychiatric facility on eastside property that was acquired when it took off Sparrow two years ago.

“Sparrow could look to the empty lots they have that surround the hospital and turn Eastern into mixed use,” he wrote on Facebook.

Kost and City Pulse owner Berl Schwartz have recruited Eastern alumni, preservationists and eastside residents to serve on the Committee to Preserve Historic Eastern and Promote Mental Health. Kost is scheduled to speak to Margaret Dimond, president of U of M Health-Sparrow and U of M Health’s western region on Monday. He said his purpose is seek a meeting with her and the committee.


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