Detroit school proposal would pump $25 million into building repairs

Dozens of schools in the Detroit district would benefit from a proposed $25 million in spending to mostly fix building problems that in many cases have become safety issues.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti revealed the proposal during a school board committee meeting this week, and the board would need to approve tapping the district’s rainy-day fund for the amount. 

As part of the plan, $9 million would go toward repairs needed at three buildings that are part of a sweeping district restructuring effort. Eighteen schools would get masonry repairs to stop water from leaking into buildings and 14 buildings would get new boilers. Nineteen schools would get paving repairs to fix dangerous potholes.

Across the district, playgrounds would be repaired. Swimming pools would also be repaired so that classes and competitive swimming can be restored in the district.

Vitti said most of the projects would address “immediate safety-to-life issues, things we have to address or they’re going to become larger issues that will affect the day-to-day operation of schools.” 

These repairs and others would come as officials seek a long-term solution to the district’s crumbling infrastructure. A 2018 facility audit found the district needs more than $500 million worth of fixes to its buildings. 

With a long-term fix still to be determined, the district has made smaller steps toward fixing the worst problems a priority. Two years ago, it set aside $13 million for capital projects, and last year, it set aside $17.6 million. In the last two months, the district has held a series of community meetings to educate the public about the problems. 

If the board approves the $25 million on capital projects, it would be a big step forward not just for addressing facility needs districtwide, but for the restructuring plan that also needs board approval.

That plan, which Chalkbeat wrote about in November and December, involves moving some schools and programs to different buildings with the goal of increasing enrollment and getting more of the district’s 51,000 students into buildings that are in better condition.

Three of the buildings that are part of that plan need repairs totaling $8.5 million.

Vitti said during the meeting Monday that spending $25 million will leave the district with $100 million in its rainy day fund, and another $30 million in reserves.

“It doesn’t put us in a situation where we’re losing our savings,” Vitti said.

For more on the proposal, read below: