Flint, MI—Mary Paciorek has lived nearby Flint Central High School for more than 30 years, with all four of her children having graduated from the school.
But since Central shuttered over a decade ago, blight has overrun the property, and Paciorek hopes that it can be put to better use for the surrounding neighborhood.
“It’d just be nice to have something done, whatever it is, instead of just leaving it like that,” Paciorek said.
As part of Flint Community Schools’ (FCS) vision for the future, the district recently proposed building a new high school on Central’s campus. The administration has also begun talks with Charles Stewart Mott Foundation to seek financial support for the project, though discussions are still in the early stages.
In the past, officials have considered different restoration plans for the campus, including a proposal for a mixed-use development. More recently, however, a new concept design for a proposed new high school at Central was publicized on social media.
Dylan Luna, treasurer of Flint’s Board of Education, said the design is a hybrid model, one that would preserve parts of the existing building while constructing anew as well.
“This model is a good compromise between … the historical preservationists versus folks who want to see a new-build,” Luna said.
But he emphasized the design circulating on social media remains a draft at this point in time.
“It’s a great vision, but it’s just a concept,” Luna said. “It’s not set in stone by any means.”
Meanwhile, Ridgway White, president and CEO of the Mott Foundation, said in a statement that the organization is open to considering “playing a significant role in supporting a new or renovated high school, but we cannot do it alone.”
White wrote that the district would need to use its own available funding sources and demonstrate support for the project, too.
“To be responsible in our grantmaking, the Foundation would need to see a plan for long-term financial stability of the district,” he wrote. “We believe this is possible through a modest increase in enrollment, combined with a reduction in operational expenses.”
In terms of the circulating design of Central, White noted that it “does not represent a building that’s ready for construction. Rather, it’s only meant to generate ideas.”
Some residents, alumni show early support
Like her neighbor Paciorek, Sarah Scheitler, who has lived adjacent to Central since 2016, hopes that the site will be redeveloped for viable use.
“As an individual, I want to see the site reused for something, whether that’s another school or whether it’s completely torn down and turned into a park or something else,” she said.
If officials do decide to build a new high school there in the future, she added, the hybrid model would be a good option to help preserve the building’s history.
“It’s a beautiful historic building, and I think it has such deep meaning for a lot of Flint residents,” Scheitler said.
Central’s campus is also home to the former Whittier Classical Academy, with both schools having been built in the early 1920s. Due to financial hardships and low student enrollment, the district closed the two buildings in 2009, and they have remained vacant ever since.
Kierra Buggs, a Central alumnus who also lives near the campus, said the site often sees vandalism including graffiti, window breaking and trashing.
“I’m just sad now to see the building in that form,” Buggs said.
DeWaun Robinson, an alumni of both Central and Whittier, agreed.
“It really hurts, but it also speaks to the tune of the disinvestment and to the school district,” Robinson said. “When you look at all these other communities around the areas, their high schools, their middle schools, it’s like college campuses.”
Though Flint superintendent Kevelin Jones did not wish to comment on the high school’s design, the proposed building is part of Flint Community Schools’ broader strategic plan, which also includes constructing four new elementary schools and renovating Durant-Turri-Mott Elementary School.
Looking ahead, according to Flint City Council member Tonya Burns, building a new high school would help attract young families and children to Flint.
Burns, who attended Central and Whittier herself, said she was “ecstatic” to see the concept design of Central, adding that it’s a “beautiful location” surrounded by buildings like the Flint Institute of Arts, the Flint Public Library as well as the Sloan Museum and Longway Planetarium.
The connection that Central’s alumni have for the school runs deep, she noted.
“People still love Flint Central,” Burns said. “We want to see it saved.”
Some residents are not yet sure of their stance
Nic Custer grew up in Flint’s Central Park neighborhood, where Central’s campus is located, and currently lives in the area.
He said he’s on the fence about seeing a new school there, expressing concerns about issues like traffic and pollution. Further, he questioned whether other district properties would be better alternatives to the site.
Even so, he said he welcomed the concept design and noted that he hopes to see logistical and environmental plans for building a new school at the Central property before deciding on a final stance.
He also hopes to see the cost versus benefit of building the new school at the former Central site compared to other possible locations.
“I would just ask that if it’s so apparent to all those folks that are in the know that this has to be the site, that they present that transparent and objective criteria, so that the community actually supports this,” Custer said.
Custer added that the Board of Education should have “responsibly” secured and maintained Central and the district’s other vacant properties over the years, but the buildings have been left to deteriorate.
Custer is the vice president of the Central Park Neighborhood Association, with Scheitler serving as the president. Moving forward, both said they’d like to see the new Board consider the association’s feedback regarding the Central property.
“We hope the conversation is open and they come to us for our input on some of the planning,” Scheitler said.
For Terae King Jr., Board vice president, he said he is committed to ensuring dialogue with community members and keeping them informed. He added that Central’s concept design helps “start the conversation about new things that this community can have.”
In terms of next steps, Luna said the Central property should be better secured to help prevent further vandalism, and King added that other necessary tasks include drawing up plans for closing down schools and actions needed following those closures.