Two organizations announced separate plans this week to buy and renovate the Cooley High School building in Detroit.
Ladies Entrepreneur Empowerment Circle (LEEC) shared its intention to secure the building at the Detroit Public Schools Community District school board meeting Tuesday. LEEC is an organization comprised of Black women entrepreneurs and business owners. Founder and CEO Andrea Thompson says she has ties to Cooley and so do other women in LEEC.
“Many of the women are Cooley alumni. They said ‘Hey, we need somewhere to be. Why not try to go after this school?’ I say let’s do it.” –Andrea Thompson, Ladies Entrepreneur Empowerment Circle
“Many of the women are Cooley alumni,” Thompson says. “They said ‘Hey, we need somewhere to be. Why not try to go after this school?’ I say let’s do it.”
Thompson says in addition to providing a home for LEEC members, her vision of a renovated Cooley includes education, health and community-focused organizations.
Nonprofit Life Remodeled announced Wednesday it wants to buy the building from the district. The organization’s founder and CEO Chris Lambert previewed their proposed $37.5 million mixed-use development project and some of its partners. Their plan includes mental health providers, an adult education campus and sports programs.
“Our plan is to submit our offer of $400,000 to Detroit Public Schools community district board this January,” Lambert says, “with the hope that we will be granted permission to begin the project expediently.”
Lambert touted Life Remodeled’s history of renovating school buildings and its success creating the Durfee Innovation Society. It purchased Durfee from DPS in 2017 while it was under emergency management in a controversial deal that allowed it to pay $1 annually for 50 years. Elementary and middle school students from Durfee now share space with high school students inside Central High.
Lambert says the community response to that deal taught him a lesson about the importance of transparency.
“We made the biggest mistake of our entire organization’s history by not announcing prior to closing the deal that we were acquiring the real estate for $1 a year,” Lambert says.
He says that culture of transparency is a part of how the organization works now. Thompson says it’s important that these opportunities don’t automatically go to the people with the most money and connections.
“This is about building wealth for Detroiters who have not left Detroit, for those of us who have lost our homes due to over taxation,” Thompson says. “And we have a better plan.”
DPSCD board member Sonya Mays echoed the sentiment on social media, calling Life Remodeled’s reveal “strong-arm publicity tactics.” Mays wrote the district is developing a 20-year facilities plan that ensures any property sales are done using a “fair and equitable” process.
DPSCD placed a moratorium on property sales through the end of the year. It will begin discussions on its plans for properties in January.