Detroit school board rejects nonprofit offer to buy former Cooley High building

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

A nonprofit's plan to transform the former Cooley High School building and its 18-acre campus into a community hub with mental health and education services was rejected by Detroit's board of education, organizers say.

Leaders with Life Remodeled, which repurposes vacant school buildings, had announced a proposal in late 2021 to buy and transform the vacant high school building and its property on the city's west side near Fenkell and Hubbell Avenue. 

The vacant Cooley High School on Detroit's West Side.

On Friday, Chris Lambert, CEO and founder of Life Remodeled, sent an email to supporters that said the Detroit Public Schools Community District board rejected his $1 million offer and a separate offer for $500,000 that did not include an athletic field. He said the offer was made on March 8.

Lambert states in the email that the second offer excluded the 5.7 acres of athletic property but included the promise of an $1 million donation to DPSCD if the district wanted to build an athletic complex on its own."Unfortunately and remarkably, the DPSCD Board rejected both offers," Lambert wrote in the email.

District officials on Friday confirmed the latest offer from Life Remodeled was rejected.

“The district, through the school board and superintendent, rejected the latest Life Remodeled offer because it did not include commitments prior to the sale that the building and land would be used as the sale proposal outlines," district spokeswoman Chrystal Wilson said in an email.

"The school board is committed to ensuring that if the building and land were sold then the planned use occurs. Since the negotiations regarding the sale have concluded, the district will now move forward to explore alternative uses for the building and land," Wilson said.

In October, the district and Life Remodeled negotiated a good faith purchase agreement, Lambert said. When he asked his latest offer was rejected, Lambert wrote district's legal counsel said both offers failed to "include conditions, benchmarks, permitted use restrictions or other restrictive covenants, claw backs and/or profit-sharing clauses that the board required for the sale of Cooley High School and other district owned property."Located on 18 acres, Cooley High School opened in 1928 and has remained vacant since it closed in 2010. The building was appraised in 2017, Lambert said, when it was deemed worth $400,000, but after a fire later that year, it has deteriorated. In July 2022, an appraisal concluded the property was worth $0, Lambert said.

Lambert said on Friday he would continue to search for another opportunity in a different area of Detroit where the nonprofit make a difference."Our most immediate next step will be to continue the conversations with the Cooley neighbors about what else we can still accomplish together in 2023," Lambert wrote in the email. "Life Remodeled is committed to partner with the community for one final Six Day Project, which will take place in the Cooley community October 2-7."