Detroit — U of D Jesuit High School and Academy on Thursday closed on its purchase of the Johnson Recreation Center from the city of Detroit, officials said.

Renovations of the long-vacant recreation center at 8550 Chippewa and Joe Louis Park are part of the school's $7.5 million project to improve its athletic and service programs.

The Detroit City Council approved the sale for $625,000 last spring. Following a due diligence process, the school's board voted last month to finalize the purchase of the property. 

Work will begin this summer to renovate the 20,500 square-foot building, including an updated gym, locker rooms and community meeting rooms. The project will also include three soccer and lacrosse fields on 10.5 acres of open green space. Work on the fields is expected to be completed in spring 2021, according to officials. The center will be completed in summer 2021. 

“U of D Jesuit is taking another historic step in its commitment to Detroit and the tradition of Jesuit education,” said the Rev. Theodore G. Munz, the school’s president, in a statement. 

“Our students will have unrivaled athletic facilities in the city of Detroit. Our neighbors will once again enjoy using the Johnson Recreation Center that has been shuttered for the past 14 years, and that U of D Jesuit is revitalizing."”

The council approved a study last month to determine if the recreation center and park meet the criteria for historic designation. While a historic district designation can make exterior modifications subject to the approval of the Detroit Historic District Commission, it does not regulate interior design or building use, according to the city.

U of D Jesuit plans to construct a permanent historical exhibit inside the rec center to honor its history. The center is named for Sheldon Johnson, who was instrumental in influencing the city to build a pool at the site, which provided a place for African Americans to learn how to swim.

As part of a voluntary benefits agreement, U of D Jesuit agreed to make the center available to neighborhood associations for monthly meetings at no cost to residents and hold a series of community service projects each year with U of D Jesuit staff and students.

The Johnson Recreation Center has been vacant since 2006, closed due to budget cuts. The sale to U of D Jesuit makes this the third time since 2014 that the city has entered a private-public partnership to reopen a recreation center.

“This type of arrangement is truly a win-win for the people of Detroit and the neighborhoods,” said Donald Rencher, director of the city’s Housing and Revitalization Department.

“By taking on the cost of running these centers, they are helping to reopen these crucial neighborhood resources and embodying the definition of community. It is another example of the wide range of ways our department serves the people of Detroit.”

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN

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