Special Plans for the K: Former Kettering High School Area Will Be Turned Into an Auto Supplier Plant

Detroit Kettering High School, opened in 1965 to ease the overcrowding of Eastern and Denby high schools and to educate auto worker families, was named after Charles Franklin Kettering, an automotive engineer best known for designing the modern electrical starter, and co-founding DELCO. Kettering High closed in 2012 and was left vacant for scrappers, vandals and squatters to exploit.

Now, the area is getting new life, with Michigan-based automotive supplier Dakkota Integrated Systems announcing plans to purchase the 32 acres housing the vacant high school and Rose Elementary School from the Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) for $2.6 million. Dakkota plans to raze the schools and build a $55 million, 600,000-square-foot manufacturing facility which would create 625 jobs. Dakkota is a supplier for the Jeep factory that Fiat Chrysler plans at the Mack II engine plant three miles away.

“This has been a long abandoned and neglected site that has long been a drain on Detroit Public Schools,” said Mayor Mike Duggan to a small group gathered in front of Kettering during the official announcement. “As soon as we finished the FCA deal, we immediately got to work to bring suppliers to the area. Thanks to Andra Rush and Dakkota, we’re announcing one of the first, which will bring hundreds more jobs to the east side.”

Dakkota has committed to recruiting from the Detroit at Work priority application list at its new facility. Returning citizens also will have an opportunity to participate in the entire job application process, since Dakkota’s job application “bans the box,” deleting the question that asks whether an applicant has been convicted of a felony.

“We’re excited to bring good manufacturing jobs to the east side of Detroit,” said Rush, Dakkota Integrated Systems CEO and president. “Our mission is to profitably create jobs and develop top talent, all while exceeding our customers’ expectations. We’re so proud to support FCA, provide employment opportunities in Detroit, and showcase world-class quality auto parts built by hardworking Detroiters. We appreciate the mayor and his team for helping us make this happen. This is a win for all parties.”

When Dakkota opens its application process, it will interview first from a list of Detroiters who have registered through Detroit at Work, before engaging the public. For applicants to get on the priority list, they must live in the city of Detroit, meet Dakkota’s job criteria, and attend a Detroit at Work Job Readiness Event. Detroiters can pre-register now at http://www.detroitatwork.com/dakkota to attend a Job Readiness Event.

“I was saddened when the flight out of Detroit happened due to the decline in the economy, as that is what caused the school to close. I understood, as I was one of the many people that left,” said Alycia Warren, who graduated from Kettering in 1985. “But I was glad when I saw the articles that the school grounds were going to be utilized for something that may revitalize the area. Bringing a large supplier back to the area would mean stores and restaurants would need to come back to service the employees there, and that may also provide jobs for the residents in the immediate area or bring people back to the area due to there being jobs. I absolutely love the idea and hope more large companies follow suit.”

Kettering sits directly on the corner of Van Dyke and I-94 and has been deemed an eyesore, with overgrown shrubs and weeds covering parts of the building, the parking lot, and gathering areas. Vandals and scrappers have torn down the protective fence around the school and a number of doors have been pried open. The Leroy Bouguard football field, baseball diamond, and basketball court are no longer in use either. But the iconic large blue Kettering “K” along Van Dyke is expected to survive demolition and existing park equipment will be moved to a new site. That piece of news excites former Kettering Pioneers.

“I think it was a good decision to revamp Kettering. The land is valuable, the community has a low economic status, and a move had to be made,” said Zach Carr, who played football at Kettering from 1999-2002. “I’m glad the community is getting a boost. Now, for those in the Van Dyke and I-94 area, there is no excuse for you not to have a job. Manufacturing plants are right in that area.

“I’m all for doing things to create jobs and provide our people with the means to do better. For years, Kettering has been an eyesore for the community, but with so much history there, I hate to see it go. I did hear that they were keeping the big blue “K” in from of the school, so at least I can show my kids where I went to high school.”

In March of 2014, DPSCD announced that Kettering would be converted into an urban farm called the Kettering Urban Agricultural Campus that would provide fresh food to local schools. Some early site preparation work was completed, but the entire project, estimated to cost $30 million, never manifested, mainly due to the school district’s financial crisis. Some community leaders said they would have liked to have seen Kettering transformed back into a school or something else that directly impacts the neighborhood.

“As far as placing another plant in the area, I’m not sure that was the best solution,” said Anthony Lamb, who attended both Rose and Kettering. “We have no high school in the immediate area, with Southeastern being miles away, and Crockett closing as well in 2012. The city just opened the Flex-N-Gate plant just over the bridge. But not one school has opened. I do believe, though, that tearing it down is a better solution than having the building abandoned, causing further blight to the area.”

Dakkota plans to start work on the plant this fall, pending City Council approval to zoning changes, from residential to manufacturing classification. The project’s incentive package will also need to be approved by the City Council. Rush said her company plans to have the facility partially opened by the spring and fully operational by late 2020.

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