For Lansing’s mental health, save historic Eastern High School


(The writer is president of Preservation Lansing and holds master’s degrees in historic preservation and urban and regional planning from Ball State University. She is also a University of Michigan alumna. She is a Committee to Preserve Historic and Promote Mental Health member.)

Preservation Lansing and the Committee to Preserve Eastern High and Promote Mental Health applaud University of Michigan Health-Sparrow for the desire to construct a behavioral health facility on the property that includes historic Eastern High School.

However, retention of our historic school and neighborhood character are also essential for the physical environment and “mental health” of the city.

The original sale to Sparrow Hospital included a clause stating: “Purchaser shall develop a plan, which in Purchaser’s reasonable discretion protects and preserves the historical value of the Property.”

U of M would benefit from engaging the surrounding community in discussion and providing opportunities for alumni and others to have input on the structure’s future.

Hospitals have had a reputation nationwide of willfully destroying neighborhoods while developing their campuses. This has also led to neighborhood blight and loss of economic value. While, for many reasons, pulling services into one area is important, there is also a viable argument for respecting the neighborhood environment and integrating these services within.

Many urban hospitals are landlocked, but not U of M Health-Sparrow’s Michigan Avenue campus. It has the advantage of the 18 acres of land and old Eastern High School that it acquired from the Lansing School District and a vacated street to utilize.

This offers U of M the opportunity to develop a creative plan that incorporates the new facility and an enlarged Emergency Services facility, which is apparently also under consideration, while retaining the memorable landmark Pennsylvania Avenue classroom building and auditorium for a variety of services, including medical offices, community services and education, and more. 

While costs may be higher, the benefits are much greater, including the environmental impact of demolition and the cost of demolishing a reinforced concrete frame structure. And we cannot stress strongly enough the appreciation from those who attended and love old Eastern High School, those who attend the new Eastern High School, residents of the surrounding neighborhood and the broader Lansing community.

Eastern High School is one of Lansing’s most historic and architecturally significant schools.  Designed by Pond & Pond architects (brothers who were U of M grads), it reflects the cultural environment and architectural styles of the 1920s. The automobile was becoming the primary industry in reapidly growing Lansing, requiring new schools for new neighborhoods.   Eastern has graduated tens of thousands of students, who share a common connection through this building.

The retention of our historic built environment provides us with a feeling of stability, memories and a sense of place.  Since the pandemic, studies are looking at the connection between historic structures and urban environments and mental health. See

For that and the other reasons I’ve outlined, we ask U of M Health-Sparrow and the Board of Regents, which will ultimately decide, to join the Committee to Preserve Historic Eastern and Promote Mental Health in finding a progressive solution in the best interest of both our goals


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