Adaptive Use Strategies for School Buildings
by 
Elizabeth Roach
August 25, 2021

Over time, our cities and the educational systems within them have changed. Detroit’s resurgence has created a unique situation where there are many unused school buildings alongside a growing economy. A recently published in-depth analysis from afterschooldetroit.com shows the city is ready to renew itself once again – this time using abandoned schools as community anchors.   

  • These school buildings are in varying states of disrepair, but they were built to last with materials and craftsmanship difficult to replicate.  
  • Most of the schools are in central, walkable areas with large sites. 
  • The historic fabric allows for use of state and federal tax credits. 

Adaptative use of schools can accommodate many needs. At our Gateway Senior Housing project, we converted the former Fremont High School into 38 senior apartments. As an important landmark near the downtown area and a gateway into the city, its reuse is welcomed by the community where many former students still reside. At our Columbus School project, we built on the momentum created by our adaptive use of the nearby American Brewery where QE converted Baltimore’s historic School 99 into 50 affordable apartments. Our ongoing work at Lansing’s historic Eastern High School will provide offices and conference space for a major hospital system. At the Holcomb School redevelopment in Detroit, ranked #1 for Real Estate redevelopment potential on afterschooldetroit.com, our team is working with the developer, Communities First, to utilize a vacant school building to meet the demand for senior living in Detroit’s Old Redford Neighborhood.

   

Gateway Senior Housing, Located in Fremont, MI
Columbus School, Located in Baltimore, MD

Our work on the adaptive reuse of abandoned and vacant buildings seamlessly integrates new technologies, functions, and practices with the character-defining features that make these places unique so that they can continue to serve, both today and for future generations. Design challenges for adaptive use projects include (to name just a few) providing exterior restoration design, universal accessibility, safe means of egress, integrating modern building systems, and adapting the building to serve multiple missions, including teaching, collaboration, and administrative functions, in a state-of-the-art manner.  

QE in Detroit 

Our work in the city began decades ago with the restoration of Orchestra Hall. Through the years, we have created strategies for the adaptive reuse of abandoned buildings, crafted inventive plans for infill development, and preserved iconic structures that anchor communities and connect us to Detroit’s rich history. At our local office based in Midtown, we support clients with a strong working knowledge of people and places throughout the city and our strong appreciation for the legacy of this vibrant metropolis. 

QE’s accomplishments in Detroit include: 

  • The Inn at Ferry Street: an adaptive use of four dilapidated houses into a boutique inn, spurring the rebirth of the Ferry Street Historic District. 
  • The Garden Theater Block on Woodward: the redesign and infill of an urban block in the city’s Midtown neighborhood, including the transformation of the historic theater into an events venue and restaurant. 
  • Professional Plaza: renovation of a 12-story Mid-Century Modern tower along Woodward Avenue, converting the former office building into a residential and retail complex. 
  • Michigan Central Station: the adaptive use of the long-abandoned train station in to Ford’s flagship mobility hub in Corktown. 

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