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Cooley Reuse Project nears campaign goal to save historic high school

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Cooley Reuse Project

What does it take to save a massive, historic high school? A five-year community effort in Northwest Detroit is nearing a major milestone. The Cooley Reuse Project, a grassroots organizing campaign to take ownership of Cooley High School, is crowdfunding for its last $10,000 to take property ownership of the landmark.

Cooley Reuse Project founders Nicole and LaMar
Photo by Mariuca Rofick

Preservationist Nicole Pitts and her husband LaMar have led the campaign for five years. When LaMar’s high school, Mackenzie, was demoed, efforts to save Cooley intensified. With multiple community partners, they’ve raised nearly $900,000 and hope to take property control of the 322,000-square-foot school soon.

Notable alum Mike Ilitch helped put Cooley High School on the National Register of Historic Places. The school was built in 1927 and closed in 2010. It’s been subject to scrapping and vandalism since.

Initial funding has come from friends, family, mentors, community members, colleagues, our board members, and Cooley alumni contributions. They’ve also worked with Sonya Delley, who has helped them find CDFIs for funding.

Community partners include Cooley Alumni Groups and individual alumni throughout the decades; Saundra Little at Centric Design Studio; DCDC's Christina Heximer at University of Detroit Mercy; Midtown Developer Joel Landy; Carlos Neilbock, Master Metal Smith, of CAN Art Handworks; Belmont neighbors and friend from the Detroit Calvary United Methodist Church; and District 1 City Councilman Tate.

IDEAS City Fellows at Cooley High School, April 2016
Photo by Amber Elliott

Once they gain property control, Phase One of the project would include stabilizing the property; repairing the roof; and renovating the kitchen, theater, and library. Phase Two includes restoring the pool, basketball courts, and gun range. In Phase Three, they’d lease and develop the space for community, co-working, and more. The building has many community-friendly amenities (pool, library, theater) and sits on 17 acres with basketball courts and other sporting areas that can be used for a variety of community fitness activities.

The crowdfunding campaign runs through May 14.