Kindergartners arriving at Nichols Elementary-Middle School this week for the first day of school were welcomed to a building that needs massive repairs totaling $5.6 million.

That may seem like a lot, but it’s hardly out of the ordinary in Michigan’s largest school district, and it’s not nearly as much as the $29 million it would cost to bring Detroit’s storied Pershing High School up to modern standards.

Even the district’s prized newer buildings, like the one that houses Cass Technical High School, need a lot of work. Only 14 years after it was built, Cass requires $7.4 million in repairs.

News reports this week focused on problems with the district’s drinking water, which was shut off as a precautionary measure while the district develops a plan to upgrade aging plumbing systems. But a report obtained by Chalkbeat shows that plumbing is just one of many problems caused by decades of delayed maintenance.

A report released by Superintendent Nikolai Vitti in June found that the district urgently needs to raise more than $500 million to fix its crumbling facilities —  a conclusion that one board member called “tragically awful.” The full document, which was obtained by Chalkbeat, attaches a price tag to every active school in the district that is in need of repairs.

It is based on a survey completed for the district early this year by the construction consulting firm OHM Advisors, which found that district facilities are “generally in fair to poor condition.” The consultants used district documents, satellite imagery, and “professional judgment” to come up with cost estimates for Detroit schools’ warped floors, leaking roofs, and crumbling walls. Those conditions drew national attention two years ago when they prompted most of the district’s teachers to walk out of their schools in protest.

The consultants  found widespread problems with essential heating, plumbing, and fire safety systems, leading them to designate most of the repair costs as a “high priority.”

The problems are likely not limited to traditional schools in the district, which formerly owned many of the buildings currently occupied by charter schools.

These 15 district schools will be most expensive to repair.

School Age (Years) Cost of repairs (2018)
Pershing High School 89 $28,041,977
Cody High School 71 $25,500,188
Detroit International Academy for Young Women 104 $24,092,987
Detroit Collegiate Preparatory High School 48 $15,350,644
Noble Elementary School 98 $14,279,004
Osborn High School 62 $13,993,463
Frederick Douglass Academy for Young Men 15-53 $13,133,746
Carstens Academy of Aquatic Science at Remus 41 $12,872,800
Drew Transition Center 48 $12,207,944
Thurgood Marshall Elementary/Middle School 98 $11,133,931
Davis Aerospace Technical High School at Golightly 36 $9,704,498
Sampson Webber Academy 54 $9,600,826
Dixon Educational Learning Academy 55 $9,395,277
Southeastern High School 104 $8,363,595
Keidan Special Education Center 11-55 $7,916,713

The 108-year-old building that houses Nichols offers a primer on the seemingly intractable situation. The analysis found that while the building, which is in one of Detroit’s wealthiest neighborhoods, needs more than $5 million in repairs, it is barely worth $10 million. The money it would take to get Nichols in good condition would get the district halfway to a brand new building.

So, should the district make the repairs, or replace the building? That may be merely an academic question: the district currently doesn’t have the money for either option. When Michigan lawmakers ended the era of emergency management, helping the district avoid bankruptcy and putting it back in the hands of the local school board, they forbade the district from taking on new debt. Vitti and the school board began exploring the options for addressing the deteriorating facilities, including philanthropic donations and a rollback of the borrowing restrictions, but none is guaranteed.

Complicating matters further, Nichols is operating at about 60 percent capacity — about average in a district that has more available desks than students to fill them.

District leaders could try to save money by shuttering the school and consolidating it with another building. But that option would have serious consequences for the district, which could lose enrollment if students don’t land in another district school, as well as for communities where students could be forced to travel long distances to find another school.

The problem, experts say, will only get worse with time. The districtwide repair bill is expected to double in five years to more than $1 billion if nothing is done.

Not every building in the district, though, needs work. The consultants couldn’t identify any needed repairs at newer schools like Earhart Elementary-Middle school in southwest Detroit.

These 15 schools are in the best shape of any in the district.

School Age (Years) Cost of repairs (2018)
Detroit School of Arts 14 $-
Earhart Elementary/Middle School 7 $-
East English Village Preparatory Academy 6 $-
Gompers Elementary/Middle School 7 $-
King High School 7 $-
Mumford High School/Mumford Academy 6 $-
Renaissance High School 13 $-
Charles Wright Academy of Arts and Science 16 $11,874
Edward ‘Duke’ Ellington Conservatory of Music and Art 17 $40,883
Mackenzie Elementary/Middle School 6 $64,270
Munger Elementary/Middle School 6 $66,522
Clippert Academy 113 $163,879
Bennett Elementary School 107 $247,845
Fisher Magnet Upper Academy 15 $368,865
Bunche Elementary/Middle School 96 $377,170

But the problem is widespread: About one-third of the district’s schools need more than $5 million of work done. Scroll down to see how much it would cost to get your school back in good condition. Numbers used are as of 2018, though the cost of repairs is expected to rise every year that nothing is done. Schools are also ranked by Facility Condition Index (FCI), a metric used by the consultants to compare the condition of different buildings. A higher FCI means the building is in worse condition. Some construction industry experts suggest that buildings with an FCI higher than 60 percent should be replaced instead of repairs. For more on FCI, see the full report.

* Palmer Park Preparatory Academy was renovated this year after a mold infestation forced the district to move students to another building. The project used up much of the $25 million allocated by the state for repairs in the district.

Source: Facilities report commissioned by Detroit Public Schools Community District