Historic Detroit

Every building in Detroit has a story — we're here to share it

Healy International Academy

Healy has the distinction of being perhaps the smallest public school ever built in the city of Detroit because it was never completed.

The two-story school in Detroit's Castle Rouge neighborhood lacked large, shared spaces such as an auditorium, library or gym. Classrooms on the north side of the first floor were converted into a basketball court — complete with floor markings and 8-foot hoops — even though it's impossible to imagine being able to shoot the ball without hitting the standard-height ceiling.

The original two-story school consists of just six standard classrooms, two larger classrooms, and a kindergarten. A freestanding boiler house is connected to the school via underground tunnel.

A large addition appears on architect J. Ivan Dise’s original site plans for the school. If built, the addition would have tripled the size of the existing school. The T-shaped addition would presumably have contained an auditorium and gym on the far west end, and a double-loaded classroom wing connected to the original building.

That said, for a mid-century design, the school has nice finishes, including gold-glazed block throughout, with green-glazed brick details.

So, what’s the story behind this quirky little school?

The story behind that quirky little school

In 1949, Detroit residents approved a special millage which provided $50,000,000 to the Detroit Board of Education so that it might update and expand its facilities to ease overcrowded conditions that existed in the decade immediately following the close of World War II and to prepare for a projected enrollment increase of 40,000 students between 1955 and 1963. During this building campaign, which extended between 1949-1954, the Detroit Board of Education erected 119 new school buildings and additions to existing buildings. The Detroit Board of Education touted this new construction as the “latest in architectural advancement,” noting that “simplicity distinguishes this architecture.”

New innovations that were widely introduced during this campaign included glass-block windows, acoustic-tile ceilings, wide corridors, fluorescent lighting, concrete block interior walls, and multipurpose gym/cafeterias. Also, gyms and auditoriums often featured exterior points of ingress/egress to facilitate the public’s access to the buildings beyond their educational use.

The Daniel J. Healy Elementary School was completed in 1951 as a result of this phase of the construction program in order to meet the needs of the rapidly growing population in the extreme northeast portion of Detroit. Upon completion, the Healy School included eight classrooms, two kindergartens, what was to be a temporary gym, and what was to be a temporary auditorium. A free-standing boiler house is behind the school. The school was erected at a cost of $357,969 and had a capacity of 385 students. Newspaper advertisements from 1952 highlighted the school as an amenity to the surrounding, newly built, 350-home, “restricted” community that had been developed by local homebuilder Harry Slatkin.

In 1953, two transportable buildings were located on the school grounds to house first- and second-grade students. The Healy School was annexed to the Gompers School in September 1957 but, in September 1958, it became its own separate unit. The school’s crowded conditions were alleviated in 1959 with the erection of a new junior high unit at the nearby Hubert School, which allowed for Healy to shift from accommodating children in grades K-8 to K-6. Also during that year, the property’s northern boundary was expanded to allow for establishment of a playground and the improvement of the grounds with the installation of new trees, shrubs, and flower gardens.

The building underwent no major alteration after the completion of its initial construction.

The Detroit Public Schools system, successor to the Detroit Board of Education, permanently closed the building in 2007 and sold the property to the City of Detroit in 2014 in lieu of paying thousands in back utility bills.