Life Remodeled Osborn project starts on top: the roof

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

A nonprofit with ambitious plans to invest more than $5 million and months of sweat equity into the Osborn community is starting its work at the top of Osborn High School.

That is where a tear-off and replacement roof would cost the cash-strapped Detroit Public Schools district an estimated $2.4 million

Instead, the nonprofit Life Remodeled is raising money to pay for a 150,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art roof system over the school, reducing the cost to about $900,000, said Chris Lambert, CEO of the nonprofit community rebuilding effort.

"Fixing the roof at Osborn is our football field this year," Lambert said, referring to the $1.2 million synthetic turf field constructed with cash and in-kind donations last summer during a makeover of Cody High School and the Cody-Rouge neighborhood on Detroit's west side.

Donations for the roof project have so far totaled $100,000 of the $900,000 needed, organizers said. The new roof will carry a 20-year warranty.

Dom Morelli, a roofing specialist and vice president of Life Remodeled, has arranged for discounted materials and labor from several area roofing companies. Work officially begins Monday on the roof over the gym and library using the funds raised to date.

"At Osborn, students have been dodging rain drops in the building for years. We owe it to these students to give them a safe and dry place to learn," Morelli said.

School officials and business owners attend the Life Remodeled press conference on the roof of Osborn High School on Detroit’s eastside.

Life Remodeled and its partners are trying to rally at least 12,000 volunteers from businesses, the Osborn community and other neighborhood organizations and churches to join forces in the 4.5-square-mile Osborn neighborhood from Aug. 3-9 to help fulfill its mission of "remodeling lives one neighborhood at a time."

"There are so many signs of positive change in the city of Detroit, but making the city's neighborhoods safe and desirable places to live is a key to sustaining the good things that are happening," Lambert said.

In Osborn, plans include significant upgrades to the Osborn cafeteria, gym and library, and creating safe pathways to school for students; boarding up more than 500 vacant homes and structures in the Osborn area and beautifying 300 blocks, including front and back yards and alleys; demolishing 20 burned out houses that are beyond repair and remodeling 21 homes

"All of our efforts at Detroit Public Schools are centered on providing our 47,000 students with an exceptional learning experience," said DPS Emergency Manager Darnell Earley. "They can't have an exceptional learning experience if the roof is leaking and other aspects of the building are not up to par. We can't thank Life Remodeled enough for its continued partnership in helping us to remodel buildings and in turn, remodel the educational experience we provide our students."

Life Remodeled has received support for the project from the Skillman Foundation, which provided a grant of $200,000 for the second consecutive year; Cunningham Limp Construction, which is leading the Osborn library renovation, and iProspect, which is donating digital marketing support.

Business partners for the Osborn project include General Motors, which is expected to send up to 3,000 volunteers and provide equipment and materials necessary to take on about 40 percent of the project territory including a majority of board-ups.

Quicken Loans will focus on improvement to Pulaski Elementary School and the surrounding blocks. The company is offering supplies and more than 2,000 volunteers to help with repairs.

Within the community, the Osborn Neighborhood Alliance is leading canvassing to inform and recruit residents to participate in the project.

So far, 800 residents are preregistered to participate. Black Family Development received a $150,000 grant from the Kresge Foundation to support the work of Life Remodeled and to purchase lawn mowers, edgers, trimmers, and other equipment and supplies for the clean-up.

The equipment will stay in the neighborhood and may be used to help interested residents to start a landscaping business after the Life Remodeled project to help sustain the efforts and to help ease high unemployment, Lambert said.