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High School Closes...Urban Farm to Open

High School Closes...Urban Farm to Open
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A nearly 27-acre urban farm that will provide produce for Detroit public school students' meals is planned at a former high school as part of the district's efforts to reuse empty buildings instead of tearing them down.

The Kettering Urban Agricultural Campus will include hoop houses for an extended growing season, land redevelopment for planting and a food processing facility, Detroit Public Schools spokeswoman Jennifer Mrozowski told The Associated Press ahead of an official announcement.

Kettering High School is among dozens of Detroit schools closed in recent years as the district sank into debt and parents sought better education options. The district has gotten praise for its efforts to reuse those buildings.

"We began developing the urban farm project at the former Kettering site when I saw all the positive things being planned for the future of the city of Detroit," said Betti Wiggins, executive director of the district's Office of School Nutrition. "We looked at the footprint of the area and tried to conceive of a plan to re-purpose one of our own buildings in a way that would benefit the city and neighborhood while serving our children by expanding access to fresh, healthy food."

Wiggins' office is spearheading the four-phase project. The two initial phases are expected to be completed during this year's growing season and include securing the site for eight hoop houses and redeveloping land for planting. Produce farmed on the land will be included in meals for students throughout the district.

The final phases include developing a food processing facility.

City officials plan to soon embark on a massive program to demolish tens of thousands of vacant houses and buildings across Detroit's 139 square miles. Vacancies skyrocketed as Detroit's population dropped by more than a quarter of a million people between 2000 and 2010. Somewhere around 700,000 people now live in a city that held 1.8 million in the 1950s.

The number of students in Detroit schools also has plummeted. By 2008, public school enrollment had slipped below 100,000 students. It's projected to fall to 40,000 by 2016.

Officials padlocked 35 schools about seven years ago, followed by 29 more in 2009. Of 172 schools that were open in 2010, about 100 remain open.

The Detroit district has made more than $16 million by selling or leasing closed school buildings and vacant land. About 40 schools have been sold and another 45 leased, the district said last summer. More than 80 schools and about 40 parcels of land currently are listed for sale on the district's real estate page.

"No longer are we simply trying to sell our properties to the highest bidder," said Jack Martin, the district's state-appointed emergency manager. "We are now looking for buyers who, wherever possible, will creatively re-use the land to benefit the neighborhood, or at least demolish the existing structure if it is not viable for rehabilitation."

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