Flint, MI—Dania Manuel has fond memories of attending preschool through sixth grade at what is now the former Washington Elementary School in Flint, Mich. 

“It was a learning, educational and fun [school],” said Manuel, 23, in the living room of her home near the vacant school building. 

As much as it reminds her of good times in her childhood, she said she hopes that the former elementary will be torn down for the betterment of the community. 

“It’s just sitting there,” Manuel said. “It’s not going to make the neighborhood look any better. I don’t want it to go, but I feel like [for the] community it does have to go.” 

Nearly a decade ago, Flint Community Schools (FCS) closed Washington down to help address the district’s budget deficit and declining student enrollment. Since then, the property has been left vacant, dilapidated and burned

To address its future, the new Flint Schools Board of Education held a public discussion about demolishing the former elementary at a finance and operations subcommittee meeting on Jan. 30, 2023.

Dania Manuel looks toward the former Washington Elementary School on the east side of Flint, Mich. from the porch of her home on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. (Nicholas Chan | Flint Beat)
Dania Manuel poses for a portrait at the porch of her home on the east side of Flint. Mich. on Jan. 24, 2023. (Nicholas Chan | Flint Beat)
Broken fencing at the former Washington Elementary School on the east side of Flint, Mich. is seen on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. (Nicholas Chan | Flint Beat)

“It’s a detriment to the community,” Dylan Luna, the Board’s treasurer, told Flint Beat ahead of the meeting. “I think it’s a prime suspect for demolition because of its current state, but also it’s our first step to showing the city that we can be better neighbors as a district.” 

Funds spent on maintaining the vacant property, which is among the district’s 20 unoccupied properties, Luna said, is money taken away from investing in Flint Schools’ students and staff. 

“If we can demolish this school, if we can put other properties back into productive use, in my opinion, that’s more money into our classrooms, more money for our student attraction, retention, and more money to support our staff,” Luna told his fellow board members on Jan. 30. 

The annual cost of maintaining the district’s vacant properties was not readily available at the meeting, according to Chris Henderson, the district’s director of operations. But, he said, securing Flint Schools’ vacant properties requires constant work, whether it be fencing the perimeters or coordinating with the police regarding trespassers.

FCS Superintendent Kevelin Jones added, “We have some sort of vandalism or break-in on a weekly basis.” 

Kevelin Jones (center), superintendent of Flint Community Schools (FCS), speaks during a conversation about the district’s vacant school buildings during a Board of Education finance and operations subcommittee meeting at the FCS Administration Building in Flint, Mich. on Monday, Jan. 30, 2023. (Michael Indriolo | Flint Beat)

The Board’s Washington Elementary demolition discussion comes after former members brought up demolishing the long-shuttered Central High School and Whittier Classical Academy in October 2022.

At the time, the former Board had reached a deadlock vote, failing to move a $3 million demolition contract for the Central-Whittier campus to a regular meeting. 

With respect to Washington Elementary, Superintendent Kevelin Jones said FCS has funds available for its demolition, though the district has not begun the bidding process for a contract and an estimated cost for demolition is not currently available.

“It is an eyesore,” Jones said at the meeting. “If we can do our part in some way as a district with the leadership of our Board, we would definitely do what we can.”

The former Washington Elementary School on the east side of Flint, Mich. is seen on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. (Nicholas Chan | Flint Beat)

Aside from demolition, board member Laura MacIntyre asked about a bid that was submitted on the former elementary property last year.

As Flint Beat previously reported, Flint Schools began a bidding process for 13 of its vacant properties, including Washington Elementary, in summer 2022.

According to documents from Thrun Law Firm, which was hired to support the district’s property offloading process, Washington did receive a bid noted as: “at no cost in exchange for an annual donation.” The bidder, Divine Development Group, proposed demolishing the structure to build “a mixed use and community outreach center.”

As the Board had not yet moved forward with that and 14 other proposals before the November 2022 election, during which five new members were elected to the Board, Thrun attorney Philip Clark told Flint Beat that the firm will work to get the new Board up to speed with all the proposals.

“We’re waiting for the direction from the Board as to what they want to do,” Clark said. “They can have us negotiate. They can accept any of the proposals or they can reject them.” 

In the meantime, Luna told Flint Beat he requested that the demolition of Washington Elementary be on the Board’s committee of the whole meeting agenda on Feb. 8, 2023.

Nicholas is Flint Beat’s public health and education reporter. He joins the team as he graduates from Santa Clara University, Calif. Nicholas has previously reported on dementia and brain health, as...