After a heated battle, the Detroit Prep charter school now owns its ‘forever home’

After nearly a year of court battles, legislative wrangling, and politicized negotiations, a Detroit charter school is now the proud owner of a school building on Detroit’s east side.

The Detroit Prep charter school has been trying to buy the former Joyce Elementary School in the city’s Pingree Park neighborhood since last summer, but the sale was held up for months by a restriction in the property’s title.

The Detroit Public Schools had added the restriction in 2014 when it sold the school to a private developer. The restriction barred future owners from putting anything but housing in the building.

The district refused to waive that requirement, triggering a legal fight as the charter school tried to enforce a state law that appeared to make deed restrictions like the one on the Joyce school illegal.

It also triggered a political battle as pro-charter lawmakers sharply criticized district Superintendent Nikolai Vitti for opposing the charter school’s purchase. The dispute led to an editorial in the Wall Street Journal, and eventually to a change in state law that ultimately cleared the path for Detroit Prep’s purchase of the building.

Kyle Smitley, the school’s director and co-founder, said the sale on the building went through on Friday.

“We are thrilled to finally own our future school home!” Smitley said in a statement. “There is still a long road ahead — lots of money to raise and much renovation to be done.”

In her statement, Smitley thanked people who had helped the school reach this point, including its financial lender and its construction team. She also added that she’s grateful to Vitti and the school district “for their partnership as we finalized the acquisition.”

She said she wasn’t sure when her students would move into their new building, which has been closed since 2009. Currently the school serves 75 students in grades kindergarten to second grade in the basement of a church in Indian Village.

The school plans to eventually expand up to the eighth grade and serve 430 students.

The former Anna M. Joyce Elementary School has sat vacant since it was closed by the district in 2009.