Historic Durfee Middle School On Detroit’s West Side Aims To Become Mixed-Use Community Innovation Center

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One of the scourges of Detroit’s depopulation has been the empty school buildings left behind. As students continue to leave the public school district in Detroit, in the wake are left many hulks of buildings smack dab in the neighborhoods of the city.

For the last 90 years, the building that houses Durfee Middle School has been serving the community. It would be quite a negative impact to the community for another such structure to meet the same fate.

With the elementary and middle school students being relocated to nearby Central High School (it’s going to become a K-12 school), Durfee could have become another playground for ruin photographers and scrappers.

Fortunately, if a crowdfunding campaign is successful, there’s going to a be full-fledged community innovation center ran by the nonprofit Life Remodeled, providing support programs for the surrounding community and the school next door.

So what is a “community innovation center?” Let’s look at the plans.

They include a business accelerator, makerspaces, co-working and collaborative spaces, recreation, and opportunities for creativity and resource sharing for local small businesses, entrepreneurs, students and community members. It will operate in collaboration with Central High School and the public school district, including providing guest lecturers to the high school. The center will also have various opportunities for the community as a whole to use the space.

Rendering of the maker space proposed at Durfee.

The to-do list to make this happen is long. It involves everything from installing a new gym floor to transforming the former swimming pool and locker rooms into a maker space, where tools such as drill presses, 3D printers, laser cutters, sewing machines, table saws, screen printers and more will be available for entrepreneurs and small business owners from the community.

There will be office space as well, building office space according to the needs of nonprofit and community partners.

The Life Remodeled folks have a business plan for this space, too, so it’s not a money pit that requires dollar after charity dollar.

Their goal is for the building in the Dexter-Linwood neighborhood to be at 90 percent occupancy and financially self-sustaining within three years. The 176,000 square foot space is being leased under agreement with the Detroit Public Schools Community District for $1 per year.

“The Community Innovation Center brings together under a single roof the kind of impact we envision when we talk about remodeling lives one neighborhood at a time,” said Life Remodeled CEO Chris Lambert. “Our focus on community gathering spaces like Skinner Park in Denby last year, which benefited from Patronicity support, is what will help make a lasting change in Detroit neighborhoods.”

If they reach their goal of $50,000 from the online community through a Patronicity campaign by April 14, 2017, the project will win a matching grant with funds made possible by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Public Spaces Community Places program.

As of this writing, the campaign has raised $5,200.

So that’s where you come in. Their crowdfunding campaign just launched, and if you’re interested, visit it here.

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