Flat Rock residents fight school district's plan to tear down historic Reading building

Flat Rock Reading building
Posted at 5:31 PM, Jan 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-09 18:20:05-05

FLAT ROCK, Mich. (WXYZ) — Bruce Chapin is the president of the Flat Rock Historical Society. Him and his father went to elementary school at the Reading building in Flat Rock.

While 7 Action News visited Monday, a construction worker nearby found a marble in the lawn.

"Wow, we had many marble pots around the perimeter of the building to play marbles with when we were kids here," Chapin said.

History rests all around the 1911 steel re-enforced concrete building.

"It’s a landmark in the town. Everybody knows it," Chapin said.

That's why Chapin and many others say they're so distressed to see that the school board plans to tear the building down.

The Board of Education voted on it in November despite over 500 locals signing a petition to try and save it.

Monday afternoon, construction workers were at the building removing pieces of limestone from the front facade. At the same time, Jennifer Schoenberger was in a Zoom meeting with Flat Rock Community Schools Superintendent Andrew Brodie.

Schoenberger told 7 Action News that she's a direct descendent of the founder of Flat Rock and has been working with their local state Rep. Jamie Thompson on a plan to save the Reading building.

She says their plans include using state funds and fundraising to renovate the building into a children's museum, a STEM center or whatever the district needs.

Shoenberger says in her Monday Zoom with Brodie, she was talking about those plans and asking the district to give them time to put them into action.

"I have done so much research and I feel confident that we could not only save this building, but we could get a majority of the funding to renovate it," Shoenberger said. "I just don’t understand why they won’t give a chance. It’s nothing but upside to saving this building."

Shoenberger says in the meeting, Brodie expressed that the plan for the Reading building is to demolish it and surrounding buildings to make housing units of some kind, and that's final.

7 Action News reached out to Brodie asking why they plan to demolish the building. We received this statement:

"The Flat Rock Community Schools Board of Education unanimously approved the demolition of the building at the November 21, 2022 regularly scheduled meeting. This building was purchased in 2021 by Flat Rock Community Schools. When the School District purchased the building in 2021 it had been neglected by its previous owner for over 21 year. Those years have left the building in an unsafe space. The property that the building sits on is centered on our Division St. campus and as a result the School District Board of Education approved the demolition of the building because at this point the building has no educational nexus that is not already supported at one of our other buildings. The costs associated with renovations far exceed the educational impact that the building could have on students. It would be financially irresponsible to use monies earmarked for the education of Flat Rock students to renovate the building, and sale to a private entity is not practical because of its location on our campus.

Please know that we will be salvaging the signage over the doors for our newly renovated media centers at both Barnes and Bobcean Elementary Schools (Summer of 2024). We will also be setting up an area near the site where community members may take a brick from the building in an effort to honor the past and allow people to have a small piece of history. Flat Rock Community Schools is future focused on creating the best possible learning environments for our students, staff and community."

However Shoenberger says her and Chapin are not giving up.

She says if people would like to help them, the best thing they can do is reach out to Flat Rock school board members.

She also says that if the district won't give them a chance, she's prepared to take legal action in the form of an emergency injunction.

"I'm just begging for mercy and asking them to please reconsider the demolition," Shoenberger said.

"We’re at risk of losing our history," Chapin said. "You can’t tear down everything."