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2021: City of St. Clair School Reuse Plan

Student-Led, Faculty-Guided Project (2021)

Authors: Sam Burtnick, Wei-Han Chen, Kam Gates, Chris Mattei, and Kelsie Stuber


This study is the result of a partnership between the St. Clair County Metropolitan Planning Commission and the Urban and Regional Planning Program at Michigan State University (MSU). Five team members of MSU's practicum course have provided recommendations that will assist the City of St. Clair in the redevelopment of former school properties in their community. During the 2021 spring semester, practicum students went on site visits, analyzed socio-economic data, created an asset analysis, and conducted community engagement surveys amongst other tasks to determine the best  recommendations for the future use of the properties.  

The City of St. Clair lies within the East China School District. After declining enrollment and a failed bond effort, the district has decided to close two elementary schools located in St. Clair; Eddy Elementary School and Gearing Elementary School. The closure of the two facilities and the development potential of the vacant land have created a unique development opportunity for the City of St. Clair. 

Once data collection was completed, recommendations were made for the future development of this site. Socio-economic and demographic data gave insight on the low-unemployment rate, the increasing educational attainment level and the increase in median household income in St. Clair over the last two decades. The median age of residents is 44 years of age, which is higher than the state average meaning that in the next two decades a majority of the current population of St. Clair will be 60 years of age or older. In addition, a community survey was completed by 156 people to help identify the values held by the residents of St. Clair and where they would like to see improvement. Survey respondents valued their close-knit community as well as safety. Three areas of improvements were greenspace, walkability, and commercial space. Survey respondents were also asked what they would like to see implemented and the top three choices were affordable housing (38.5%), community center (23.6%), and parks and trails (17.5%). The demographic data and community engagement of this study have assisted in the recommendations and case studies below:

  1. Community Center: St. Clair values its close-knit community and having a multi-use development that includes a space for residents to connect is suggested for development in the site of Gearing Elementary School. The East Olive Elementary School case study includes the repurposing of a school into a Community Center. Childcare, fitness center, as well as a library amongst other amenities were implemented in this case study which could be done successfully for Gearing Elementary. Funding for the St. Clair Community Center is suggested to come from Blue Meets Green for redevelopment costs as well as support with local resources.

  2. Senior Housing: With a population that is aging, affordable senior housing is a potential option to consider in the reuse of Eddy Elementary School. The Liberty Hyde Bailey Center case study resembles Eddy elementary in that it is a reuse of a historic elementary school. This project was developed by PK Development and Capital Area Housing Partnership, and received funding from Federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC), and Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentives. For the reuse of Eddy Elementary, the Brownfield Redevelopment Tax Increment Revenue and the County’s Housing Program Income are suggested funding options.

  3. Community Pool: Many survey respondents desire a community pool to serve the neighborhoods around the school sites. This new pool is suggested to be located on one of the vacant lots. The city’s next steps should be to begin looking into a feasibility study and a site suitability analysis to better assess if this location would be ideal. As one of the sites has train tracks, to ensure safety of the development the Michigan 4-H Children’s Garden case study in East Lansing was used to determine best practices for the pool development. A children’s activity space was safely constructed near an active railway and could be used as a resource for the vacant lot. Potential funding could come from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which focuses on protecting natural areas, water resources and cultural heritage, and to provide recreation opportunities.

  4. Park and Trails: The City of St. Clair currently has beautiful parks and trails. To keep the character of the city and also apply the desires of community input, using the additional vacant lot for more trails and park space is recommended. It is suggested that the city’s Parks and Recreation Department be contacted to determine if replicating a park in St. Clair with multiple trails would be the best choice here. Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) grants may be a good source of funding for development of the park. One of the criteria of this particular grant is for projects that will provide access to natural resources and conservation which could be implemented with the trails.

The overall goal of these recommendations is to incorporate the needs and desires of the community while also being mindful of the feasibility of each project.

Author Information

Students in the capstone Planning Practicum class in their final semester in the Urban and Regional Planning Program in the School of Planning Design and Construction at Michigan State University.

Faculty Member: Dr. Kotval

Community Client: Mr. Donaldson

View the Report