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Detroit, Michigan

Southwestern High School

This empty Detroit high school was too expensive to maintain or destroy. 

Once the home of 1,600 students in the southwest of Detroit, this high school now lies abandoned, slowly crumbling into a ruin that looks like the leftover set of a rock and roll video.

By the time a letter was sent to students’ parents in February 2012, letting them known that the school would be closing, the number of students attending Southwestern had been declining each year. With neighboring schools having vacant seats and the Southwestern High School being ranked among the lowest performing in the state, the decision was taken to close it in July of 2012 along with 15 other schools. Fear of overcrowding and conflicts at the other schools who had to absorb the student population led to protests, but all were in vain, and the school remained shuttered.

An auction company was hired to sell as much of the remaining school equipment rather than moving it to other schools or putting it in a warehouse. Computers, desks, chairs, instruments, tools, and electronics; everything was catalogued and put online with starting bids as low as $1. Anything that didn’t sell was left behind in the school but the district saved $85,000 in moving costs.

Attempts to convert and reuse the buildings as a garment-making business, and a community center were unsuccessful and the school remains abandoned. Metal thieves have ripped out wiring and piping and fires have broken out thanks to vandals. In the beginning, DPS and city police were called out to the school on an almost daily basis but it couldn’t stop the inevitable. Today the once bustling school is nothing more than a stark skeleton of its former self. Given that it would be cheaper to simply tear the building down than to refurbish it, but no one seems interested in doing either, Southwestern High School continues to stand empty and rotting, waiting for the city’s eventual renaissance to reach its doors, and tear them down. 

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