Flint, MI—Suzanne Headla recently moved to Flint’s east side, a nicer neighborhood than where she’d lived before, though the shuttered Washington Elementary School nearby is a grim sight, she said on the porch of her house.
“It’s got a lot of potential, but it’s just a big eyesore. It really is,” Headla said. “Even my landlord, she’s like they need to knock it down and redo it.”
Living just across the street from her is Maurice Hood. As he glanced at what’s left of the former elementary school from the doorsteps of his home, Hood said demolishing the school would be a big plus for the community.
“Tearing down the school, that would make a big difference to the neighborhood,” Hood explained.
At a Wednesday, May 10, 2023 meeting, the Flint Community Schools (FCS) Board voted unanimously to advance the demolition of Washington, approving a budget of up to $704,742 from the general fund.
During public comment, Edna Sabucco, president of the Eastside Franklin Park Neighborhood Association, said she’s lived on the east side for nearly 50 years. Both her son and nephew attended Washington, she said, adding that it’s disheartening to see the once vibrant school deteriorate.
“I have grandchildren. I used to take them up there to play on the playground,” Sabucco told the Board. “The playground equipment is still there. People are committing lewd acts and videotaping themselves on the playground equipment. When I was there taking the photographs that I sent to all of you today, I was near the doorway, an open doorway, and I could hear voices in there. There were people in there, even today. I don’t know what they’re doing, but let me tell you something. I wasn’t getting real close.”
Vandalism is rampant across the vacant properties owned by Flint Schools. On the east side, Sabucco told Flint Beat that the association has hosted many cleanups around the area including Washington, because of the dumping seen on the property. Several fires have also broken out at Washington over the years, and a major fire in 2021 left the structure destroyed.
“You would think that the Board of Education would have taken this building down a long time ago, considering how many times it’s been set afire,” she said in the interview.
Abbey Medrano is a Washington alumna, now a 10th grader at Kearsley High School. For the most part, Medrano said Washington was a good school as she recalled her best memory there as a second grader planting trees around the school.
“Now it’s just all burned down, just all trashy, making the neighborhood look worse,” Medrano told Flint Beat.
Demolishing the property would make it a safer place for kids to play, said Medrano, who lives in the area.
Ahead of the Wednesday meeting, Board Treasurer Dylan Luna, who attended Washington, told Flint Beat that demolishing the school is a way to honor its legacy, and what it’s meant to the community and its alumni.
He added, “It’s very important that the Board [continues] to move forward with the demolition project. I think it’s to the benefit of the community, students and staff, and I think they’re all behind it.”
Earlier this year, the Board began discussions about the demolition and voted for the district to begin the process in February.
With Wednesday’s decision, Clark Construction Company, which is carrying out the demolition project, will be seeking bids from demolition contractors. The bids will be presented to the Board for a vote at a later date, according to Chris Henderson, Flint Schools’ director of operations and ancillary projects.
He said a demolition contract is estimated to cost roughly $600,000, and the rest of the funds approved by the Board will be allocated for air monitoring, fees for Clark Construction and asbestos containment. Waste from the property will be headed towards a special landfill that receives asbestos waste, a carcinogenic mineral.
Washington closed nearly a decade ago, and Headla hopes that a new school would be built on the property that also preserves Washington’s history. Children in Flint need better options in the city when it comes to their education, she added.
“In my opinion, there’s not a lot of good schools in Flint,” Headla said. “My daughters don’t even go to Flint Schools.”
Both Headla and her neighbor Hood said the playground should be redone, too.
“It’s a little torn up, but kids from the neighborhood still try to play on it,” Hood said.
It would be nice to see a park on the property, Medrano noted. Meanwhile, Sabucco said the property could be converted into a baseball diamond or a small community center.
According to documents from Thrun Law Firm, which was hired to carry out 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.”
When asked about what may come after Washington’s pending demolition, Flint Schools Superintendent Kevelin Jones said ensuring safety around the property is the current priority.
“That’s our plan for right now: Green it and make it safe,” Jones said, “and we’ll see what the future holds.”