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The Daily Need

A future deferred for Detroit school

Detroit's Paul Robeson/Malcolm X Academy in better days.

Last month, Need to Know introduced viewers to an impressive group of seventh and eighth graders from the Paul Robeson/Malcolm X Academy on Detroit’s west side in our “Future Detroit” segment. The students were competing in a national engineering contest called “Future City,” which tasked entrants to rethink their home city by building three-dimensional models of a new Detroit, set 150 years into the future.

Their school, a stately five-story brick building, was something of an oasis for the kids, most of whom live nearby in rundown, partially abandoned neighborhoods. This morning dozens of students and parents stood outside in shock after a mysterious fire ripped through the building. It will be closed indefinitely and the 700 or so students will finish off the school year crowded into a nearby elementary school.

“Our school has a reputation for being a safe place,” teacher Derek Sale told the Detroit Free Press. “If we don’t have that, it’s a very scary thought.”

It’s too early to tell whether the academy will ever reopen. In a city strapped for cash, it may turn out that repairing the damage is just too costly. That’s a tough lesson for the students who ultimately won the “Rookie of the Year” award in the Future City Contest. Their winning model envisioned a future Detroit with safe, walkable streets, a library, a hospital, a pizza parlor and a nice park — the kinds of things, correspondent Desiree Cooper pointed out, that many of us take for granted today.

Now, sadly it looks like they need to make room on the model for a new school building.

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