Editor's Note: This is an update on a story previously published on RoofingContractor.com.
Amid the boarded-up buildings and blighted street corners that are all too familiar in Detroit is a place where learning, inspiration and hope still thrive. Located virtually at the center of the Osborn Neighborhood just south of Detroit’s infamous 8 Mile Road, the Osborn High School campus serves more than 1,200 students in three separate learning academies operated by the Detroit Public Schools.
Just five years ago, Osborn was closed for financial considerations that overshadowed poor academic performance and safety concerns. It reopened within a year but remained known as a drop-out factory, sporting a graduation rate among the lowest in the country.
But now, despite Detroit’s historic bankruptcy and the school district’s own emerging debt and fiscal crisis, nearly 80 percent of all students earn a diploma. And it’s among the noteworthy positives people talk about when they evaluate ‘new’ Detroit.
“Not long ago, this zip code was home to one of the most violent zip codes in the entire country, and the residents in this community said they were going to change that,” said Chris Lambert, a pastor who recently moved to Detroit from its sprawling suburbs. “This has been a huge turnaround.”
Lambert, and the thousands of others he’s mobilized, hope to continue the momentum and be part of Detroit’s rebirth. Life Remodeled, a nonprofit organization he founded in 2011, has been turning the physical challenges presented by Detroit’s older neighborhoods into positives.
Life Remodeled focuses on blight removal, neighborhood beautification and community networking with the idea that improving community anchors, like schools, increases the likelihood of making sustainable changes.
Each year, Lambert and his team propose one large-scale improvement project. Last summer, they focused their attention on the 4.5 square miles that comprise the Osborn Neighborhood, with the high school and Pulaski Elementary at the center.
“When we invest in a neighborhood, we look for two things: significant need and radical hope,” Lambert explained. “If you drive around this neighborhood, you will see it’s the most blighted in Detroit. That can change.”
In August, more than 9,500 volunteers worked alongside neighborhood residents to clear up 302 city blocks of dense, overgrown brush, board up 472 vacant homes and remodel 21 family homes of current and future Osborn students.
In all, the project consisted of an estimated $5 million in donated materials, equipment and in-kind labor from 250 corporate and non-profit sponsors. Major renovations to the high school gym floor, media center, cafeteria, hallways and critical classrooms were completed.
Several roofing contractors, distributors and manufacturers joined the effort to help complete what many considered the most important aspect of the entire initiative — the Osborn High School roof. After years of weathering and neglect, the roof had multiple leaks, rippling underlayment and water pooling throughout its six different elevations. During the winter and spring months, it was common for students to have to wear outdoor gear while in class to stay warm, and dodge buckets collecting water in the hallways and even some classrooms.
Life Remodeled Vice President Dom Morelli, a Detroit-area roofing specialist with more than 30 years of experience, said it should have been replaced 25 years ago, and added that the sense of urgency could not be understated.
“Roofing is important not because of the materials, but it’s the value of what’s underneath the roof,” he said. “No student should go to a school and have to dodge raindrops. They should have a safe environment and be focused on what school is all about: education, learning and a commitment to working together as one.”
In its decaying state, Morelli estimated replacing the roof would cost the cash-strapped school district roughly $2.4 million. However, through Life Remodeled’s partnerships, organizers reduced the cost to $900,000. The district pledged $300,000 toward the roof, but the majority of the project was completed via savings from:
- A & Z Roofing, which handled the library/media center roof.
- Above All Enterprises, which completed numerous roof repairs.
- Lutz Roofing, which re-roofed the gym.
- Priest Construction, which handled repairs and the majority of residential roofs.
- Royal Roofing, which donated labor to roof the cafeteria, home economics room and additional classrooms.
- Schena Roofing and Sheet Metal Inc., which focused on the Osborn lower roof area.
Together, the contractors contributed the labor and tools to cover most of the 156,000-square-foot roof with a 60 Mil EPDM Roofing System from Carlisle Syntec Systems, 2001 Company, and ERC Company, Morelli said. The polymer-based wind-vented system carries a 20-year warranty.
“Giving back is a big part of who we are as a company, and we’re very excited to be part of this effort,” said Tony Schena, president of Schena Roofing in Chesterfield, Mich. “Our job now is to do it and make sure it’s done right, the correct way so it will perform the way the district needs it to.”
Several companies within the roofing industry also donated significant amounts of materials to make the project successful, including: Allied Building Products; Firestone Building Products; North Coast Commercial Roofing Systems; TAMKO Building Products; and Tri-Built.
Life Remodeled is planning its next big project for summer 2016 and is still seeking donations and volunteers. Visit www.liferemodeled.com or call 313-744-3052 to make a contribution or register. All contributions are tax deductible.