U of M Health-Sparrow to meet with local residents, elected officials on old Eastern High School issue

City Council approves resolution calling for preserving landmark classroom building


 TUESDAY, JULY 9 — University of Michigan Health-Sparrow has agreed to meet with a group of residents and elected officials who support saving old Eastern High School, which the health system wants to tear down to make room for a mental-health facility.

Later yesterday, the Lansing City Council unanimously approved a resolution last night calling on U of M to preserve the old Eastern High School classroom building and auditorium on Pennsylvania Avenue as well as build the facility. 

U of M Health-Sparrow wants to replace old Eastern with a 120-bed, $97.2 million psychiatric facility in order to help meet what it has called the state's mental-health crisis.

“Converting the existing former EHS building to a state-of-the-art behavioral health hospital is not possible,” spokesperson John Foren said last week. Earlier, he had described the building, which has been closed five years, as “dilapidated.” U of M inherited the building, which has been closed five years, when it acquired Sparrow Health System in 2022.

But in a telephone call with Council member Ryan Kost and  Eastside Neighborhood Organization president, Nancy Mahlow, U of Health-Sparrow President Margaret Dimond agreed to meet with a group of residents and elected officials to discuss the situation, Kost said.

Kost said Dimond agreed to their request for a meeting with representatives of the Committee to Preserve Historic Eastern and Support Mental Health as well as state Sen. Sarah Anthony, D-Lansing, and Mayor Andy Schor. The committee comprises Eastern alumni, preservationists and eastside residents.

Kost  and Nancy Mahlow, president of the Eastside Neighborhood Association, talked to Dimond by phone. 

Kost said Dimond shared that the health system looked extensively at options for converting old Eastern into a mental health facility but ultimately rejected the plan because it would add "tens of millions" in cost.  Dimond said she will share drawings and other information at the meeting, a date for which has not been set yet.

Kost told Dimond he had heard that the health system also has plans to tear down St. Lawerence, a health facility on Lansing's west side that is also owned and operated by U of M-Health Sparrow and that includes mental-health beds. 

But, he said, Dimond said that was incorrect. Instead, she said and that it is looking at converting the building into housing, Kost said.

Kost said he responded by suggesting the same could be done with old Eastern.

The City Council resolution calls on U of M to “add a psychiatric facility while also preserving the landmark Eastern High School classroom building and auditorium both inside and out.” Old Eastern is “our oldest school that we have standing,” said the resolution, which compared its historical significance to that of U of M’s football stadium, known as “The Big House,” which underwent a $226 million renovation effort in 2007.

“We wrote a resolution encouraging the regents to consider doing some historic preservation here in Lansing, as our history is just as important as it is in Ann Arbor, where they preserve their history quite frequently,” said Council member Ryan Kost, who wrote the resolution.

At-large Council member Trini Lopez Pehlivanoglu said she supported Kost’s resolution because it “strikes the right chord.” She cited the Friends of Historic Eastern High School Facebook group, which has nearing 1,300 members, as another sign that the community is leaning toward preservation.

“This is something that our community members have gone back and forth on. Some completely or wholeheartedly agree that they do not want Eastern to be torn down at all, and others feel that a mental health facility is a need that outweighs the historic preservation of the building,” she said.

While Council president Jeremy Garza also supported the resolution, he added that he did “not want to stand in the way of a $100 million investment.”

“I think our community desperately needs a 120-bed mental health hospital. But I will support the resolution, as you encouraged them to preserve what they can with the high school — and I do support that,” Garza said.

During public comment on the resolution, Lansing resident Linda Appling spoke out against the campaign to save Eastern.

“I am concerned about setting it up as some kind of historical building. Right now, I’m opposed to it. It kind of falls in the same category as the Masonic building,” she said, referring to the Masonic Temple Building that the city had considered as its next city hall before a purchase agreement was rejected by a 4-4 City Council vote in March.

“There comes a point in time when we cannot keep doing things that are warm and fuzzy,” Appling said, adding that she was concerned that some of her taxes would go toward the preservation efforts if the U of M Board of Regents decided to change course. The regents will have final say on whatever is eventually proposed.

“Even if UM goes for it, we are going to have to contribute some money to this, and I’m tired of my money going to what I view as basically useless endeavors,” she said.

The resolution that was passed is non-binding, meaning it doesn’t implement any legislative policy that would force U of M Health-Sparrow to reconsider. Instead, it indicates that the city is supportive of efforts to preserve some of the property.

Schor also indicated his support for the resolution and said he was “looking forward to the conversation” with U of M on a potential compromise.

“I concur with the comments made in the Kost resolution. I would like to see both — we need 120 beds desperately, but I’d like to see Eastern stay standing,” Schor said.


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