After sitting vacant for nearly 20 years, the former Foch Middle School on Detroit’s east side may soon see the wrecking ball, district leaders say.
The Detroit Public Schools Community District is nearing a contract with Detroit-based Adamo Group to demolish the nearly century-old school, which closed in 2004. The demolition would make way for an expansion at Southeastern High School, which is adjacent to the property, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said during a school board finance committee meeting last week. Construction of the annex is expected to begin next fall.
The demolition is part of the district’s $700 million facility master plan to renovate, rebuild, reopen, or tear down its aging school buildings. The goal is to have every DPSCD building in good condition by 2040, and newly renovated preschool/K-8 and high schools in each neighborhood boundary.
“It is very much run-down … . It’s not worth the investment to renovate, and instead, the recommendation is to demolish this building in order to allow the construction of a new building on the property for career technical education that will be accessed by the Southeastern students,” Vitti said.
In an email to BridgeDetroit, Vitti said environmental work will begin on the building next month if the contract is approved, with the demolition to follow. Adamo Group would receive $2.6 million for the project, according to documents from the district.
The proposed contract for the demolition vendor was approved by both the finance and academic committees, he said, and will be on the agenda for the general school board meeting Tuesday. If the board doesn’t approve it, then the administration could present it to the board for reconsideration or seek new bids.
Foch is on a list of schools that will be demolished or sold, which also includes Post, Biddle, Poe, Van Zile and Carrie/Law. Meanwhile, schools like Cody High School, Paul Robeson/Malcolm X Academy, Pershing High School, Carstens Elementary School, and Phoenix, which closed in 2016, will be rebuilt.
Foch served East Village community for nearly 80 years
Foch Middle School, in the East Village neighborhood, was built in 1924 at a time when Detroit Public Schools’ enrollment and the city’s population were growing rapidly. Detroit’s population increased from 285,704 in 1900 to 1.57 million by 1930, as immigrants from around the world came to the city to work in the automotive industry, according to a report from property data company Regrid.
The sprawling, three-story, 117,058-square-foot building had an auditorium, library, two gyms, and a four-lane swimming pool.
The school was named after Ferdinand Foch, a French military leader who served as commander of the Allied armies during World War I and received a warm welcome from Detoiters during his visit to the city in 1921. To celebrate Foch’s opening the following year, the French government gifted the school community a bust of the marshal along with a French flag, according to a 1925 article in the Detroit Free Press. When Foch died in 1929, the school held a memorial service in his honor.
From the start, Foch students were achieving great things. In 1927, student Hulda Fornell was selected to participate in a national spelling bee in Washington D.C. Later that year, 14-year-old Foch student Donald Reese won first place in an intermediate-school track decathlon at Belle Isle.
East Village resident Delores Orr, 75, attended Foch in the early 1960s and remembers walking the 13 blocks to get to and from school each day, learning how to swim in the school pool, and taking home-economics classes.
“In our cooking class, we learned how to make stuffed bell peppers, and that was really different, because I came from a Southern family, and we had soul food all the time,” Orr said.
“And we had a sewing class,” she added. “The first thing I made was an apron, and my grandmother had the old-fashioned Singer sewing machine, so I sewed right along with her. It was exciting to be able to go home and sit at the sewing machine with my grandmother and make my school project.”
Orr even remembers what she wore on graduation day.
“Foch colors, if I’m not mistaken, were red and white, so I wore a white dress and then it had red trim around the waist,” she said.
Orr also experienced young love at Foch. She dated classmate Irvin Johnson, who would later become the father of her daughter, Tiffany.
Orr looks back on her time at Foch with fondness.
“I can’t say that I had a bad experience at Foch at all,” she said.
After the district reached a peak of nearly 300,000 students in 1966, Foch’s enrollment and enrollment in the district overall began to decline. Families were steadily leaving DPS for schools in the suburbs. By 1982, DPS student enrollment fell below 200,000.
During the 2002-03 school year, Foch only had 406 students enrolled. The school closed its doors the following year.
While Foch is in overall good condition, the building has some water damage, vandalism and scrapping, according to a 2021 Detroit Historic Vacant School Property Study. Rehabbing the school would cost $20.8 million, far more than demolishing it.
Foch building should be repurposed, community says
Orr, who is now the president of the Cadillac Boulevard Block Club and vice president of the East Village Association, is disappointed about the expected demolition of Foch. She believes the building can be repurposed into apartments or a child care facility.
“We need to preserve history, and we don’t do that,” she said. “It’s so beautiful. I don’t know how they have the heart to tear it down.”
Gloria Jackson agreed. The east side resident and administrative clerk for the Eastside Community Network said she would like to see the school reopen as a daytime shelter for the homeless.
“Abandoned buildings can be used for other purposes,” Jackson said. “It’s not a good feeling seeing any educational building sitting vacant.”
Some board members questioned the contract award to Adamo Group, asking why a Black-owned contracting company wasn’t considered. Vitti told BridgeDetroit that Adamo was selected because it was the lowest responsible bidder, which is a practice required by state law.
Vitti said that Assistant Superintendent of Operations Machion Jackson and her team have been engaging with Black-owned, Detroit-based companies.
“Unfortunately, as of this bid, they have more work than they can address, and they did not feel comfortable bidding for this particular demo work based on our timeline,” Vitti said. “But they are indicating that they do plan to bid on future demolition projects.”