Everyone remembers their first day of school. The squeaking of sneakers as students ran by, classroom doors opening and shutting and the familiar chime that lets you know that your late for class, again.
Those memories replayed in our heads as we walked through the former Mae C. Jemission Academy in Detroit. Built in 1942, it was named after the first African American woman to travel in space, the school closed for good in 2013. At the time of closing the school had enrolled only 474 students, in a building that was built to facilitate 1200. It has since been bought and occupied by Total Life Change Ministries. Which uses the building as a church and a space for youth to engage in summer activities. Such as “Eat Up Meet Up” and youth employment programs coordinated with the city of Detroit.
Our first salvage job on our list was a group of locker room benches located behind the gym. When it comes to salvage jobs you never know what you will run into. Case in point, the building had power, but the locker room didn’t... So one trip back across town to our shop and another to Home Depot, (insert face palm) and we were ready for action!
About five cut off wheels and six drained batteries later and we had the benches removed from the floor. Their were six benches, some as long as 20’. In total we got just over 100’ of what we found out was red oak. These were old 2 x 10’s and heavy as can be. We were working up a sweet moving these out of the locker room. Which was kind of nice as there was no heat in the building. Somehow it was 20 degrees outside but felt like 10 inside. How is that even possible?!
Another cool item we recovered was an dentist x-ray machine dated back to 70's. With the length of the arm, and body of the machine weighing almost 80 pounds, it was definitely one of the most challenging jobs yet. Luckily I’m a steady hand with the reciprocating saw ;). I was cutting the bolts out the wall as Kyle was holding it up. Even though it took longer than anticipated, it was worth the time. We are going to turn these into an awesome wall lamp very soon!
The last big task at the school was an old scoreboard in the gym. We took a gamble with this one, as we didn't know how high the scoreboard was. With two pieces of rope and two ladders we were able to come up with a safe and impressive rig to get it to the ground. With team members, Kyle and Irv on each ladder, they secured it to a pulley as I lowered it down. I would like to say I did most of the heavy lifting as I was literally holding all the weight with ropes, but let’s say it was a team effort ha.
All in all it was a great salvage job. We saved some amazing pieces. It is always fun giving a product or material a new, re purposed life. Jakenya Robinson, of Total Life Change Ministries, had a great quote about their mission as a church. “Changing lives and renewing hope”. I don’t know how many lives we get to change but we are making an effort to teach our employees valuable skills. And to ingrain in them the value of reusing and upcycling. Buildings like this school are all across the city. And if they can’t be maintained or occupied to their capacity, it is important that we are able to preserve as much of the materials in them as possible. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. They will never make schools as beautiful and as ornate as the old schools we have in Detroit.