Historic Kalamazoo School Reopens

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Students of the Washington Writers’ Academy in Kalamazoo, Mich. returned to their new, “old” school on Jan. 5 after construction on the historic building had relocated them since mid-2013. In that time, the 1920s-era academy, located in one of the city’s oldest communities, was razed and rebuilt, offering added space and a modern design.

Prior to construction, students were shifted to the former Kalamazoo Christian Middle School building, allowing for reconstruction to take place on the original Washington Writers’ Academy site. At 73,700 square feet, the magnet school is more than 27 percent larger than the original. It will serve approximately 380 K-5 students in Kalamazoo’s Washington-Edison neighborhood, well within its 500-student capacity.

"It’s very exciting to rebuild a school that was (more than 90 years old) and on a site that had a school on it for more than a century," Superintendent of Kalamazoo Public Schools Michael Rice told Michigan Live on Jan. 4. "The board (of education) felt the best place for the new school was the Edison neighborhood, and we’re delighted to be able to contribute to the renaissance of the neighborhood."

The two-story school includes two long, narrow wings joined by a glass-filled main entryway. The façade is similar to that of the original school, featuring brown and red brick and a classic design that blends well with the historic neighborhood.

No stranger to change, the original Washington Writers’ Academy underwent three different renovations throughout its history. School officials first considered a fourth renovation to bring the school up to modern code and educational standards. However, renovation costs were projected to run $1.4 million higher than simply demolishing the school and rebuilding onsite. The school’s gymnasium, which was completed in 2003, is the only existing structure remaining on the campus.

Students, school officials and construction and design team members broke ground for the new school in June 2013. Construction followed shortly after and was funded by a $62 million voter-approved bond initiative passed in May 2010. That initiative supported a variety of renovations and technology upgrade projects in schools throughout the community, and dedicated $10.7 million to the construction of Washington Writers’ Academy. The bond also allowed the Kalamazoo Public Schools Board of Education to purchase a 3-acre lot adjacent to the academy to provide additional playground space for students.

TowerPinkster Architects Engineers of Kalamazoo designed the new Washington Writers’ Academy and offers a virtual tour of the school on their website. The firm has a long history with the school district and contributed to 55 projects for Kalamazoo Public Schools at nine different locations in 2014. CSM Group, also of Kalamazoo, served as the project’s construction manager.