Neighbors fed up with abandoned elementaries

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Frustrated neighbors say abandoned Grand Rapids elementary school buildings are becoming dangerous eyesores.

Windows have been broken at the vacant Eastern Elementary School building on Eastern Avenue NE near Malta Street. There are two holes in an outside wall and some graffiti.

“It would be really good for somebody to buy it and turn it into something that’s functional, so it’s not falling down,” neighbor Stephanie Breznau told 24 Hour News 8. “It’s kind of sad because it’s a beautiful building to sit there empty.”

After neighbors’ complaints, city inspectors left notices at the old school. One was about trash in the parking lot, though that was later cleaned up.

Another inspector said the school was unsecured. But 24 Hour News 8 found all the doors were locked and the windows were boarded up.

“We need something positive to happen with that building — not just be empty,” neighbor May Kay Ingram said.

A couple of years ago, the Grand Rapids Public Schools board sold Eastern and two other buildings to a Detroit developer who promised all three would be turned into housing. But the developer pulled a fast one and immediately sold the buildings to National Heritage Academies, a for-profit charter school company.

National Heritage Academies turned one of the buildings into a charter school, but Eastern and the former Lexington Elementary on the West Side still sit empty.

The Lexington building was also boarded up Monday, though a front door window had a hole in it.

Mary Beuche of the South West Area Neighbors association said that every couple of months, somebody tries to break into the building. Police and city inspectors are then called in to close up the building again.

“We can’t find any contact person on record for the building to be responsible,” Beuche said.

She called it a “never-ending battle.”

A National Heritage Academies spokesperson told 24 Hour News 8 via phone and email that the company tries to be a good steward to the buildings. It hired an outside company to handle maintenance.

The spokesperson also said National Heritage is trying to sell both buildings for housing and that it is negotiating with two potential buyers.

That also has people in both neighborhoods wary.

“I’m not opposed to that, but I’d be concerned about traffic and how much residential is that going to be,” Eastern neighbor Ingram said.

The outcome of those deals is still uncertain.

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