All interior images of the school are from DesignShare.com
By the late 1990's, the school board was considering using part of a $1.5 billion construction bond to either repair Cass Tech or replace it. Among the problems cited were antiquated electrical, heating, and plumbing systems, leaking roofs, undersized library and gymnasium, one working elevator for 2,400 students, roaches, rats, and a crumbling auditorium. While some alumni and preservationists sought to preserve the aging building, Principal George Cohen came out strongly in favor of replacement, telling the Detroit Free Press in 2000 "nostalgia doesn't fix the cracks." The plan unveiled in 2001 called for a new school to be built on site adjacent to the existing school, which would then be torn down to make way for softball and baseball fields. The rationale for the plan, as told in the Free Press, was that "the costs of gutting and remodeling the building were estimated at $117 million, compared to $98 million to build a new school. Even after remodeling, the old building would cost $3 million per year more to maintain and operate than a new school."
The design contract was awarded to TMP Associates, who envisioned a modern 400,000 square foot school of steel, glass, and brick, with an estimated cost of $98,000,000. The school would feature an 1,100 seat auditorium, regulation size swimming pool and athletic court, dance studio, spacious common areas, and state-of-the-art science and engineering labs. Ground was broken for the new school building in April of 2002, with the first spade being turned over by Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, himself a graduate of Cass Tech. Construction was finished three years later and the new Cass Tech opened in September of 2005.
The building that sits at Henry and 2nd Avenue is a striking mixture of modern architecture elements, garnering praise for its design. Singled out in particular was the media center, with a 45' height and broad windows, as well as the layout which centered around an academic wing and a non-academic wing, separated by a common hallway. Many of the programs that made Cass Tech a household name for education in the city, like its orchestra, choir, engineering program, and athletics found new homes in purpose-built spaces.
The new Cass Tech was not without controversy, though. The cost of the project had grown from $98,000,000 to $127,000,000, as material prices increased and changes to the original design were made including adding a 6th floor. On its completion, Cass Tech was the third most expensive school building in the United States. Like other newly constructed facilities, the school developed problems early on. Five months into the new school year, the Detroit Free Press found a litany of issues, including a leaking roof, malfunctioning climate control, an uneven football field that was built too closely to nearby roads, and leaks in the swimming pool. Further complicating matters was a protracted legal battle between the school district and alumni association over the fate of the original building, which was to be demolished. Instead, it stood for six more years, gradually succumbing to the elements, metal scrappers, and vandalism. In its last few years, the fight to preserve the old building overshadowed the accomplishments of the new.
When the original building was demolished in 2011, there was a feeling that Cass - the idea of the school - went with it. But Cass Technical High School still thrives today.
In a troubled school district that loses more students to dropping out than to graduating, Cass Tech is rare bright spot, attracting and nurturing Detroit's brightest and best. The academic standards are still rigorous, and it shows in the graduation rates - 95% versus an overall average of 75% for the State of Michigan. Students at Cass average higher scores on standardized tests than other schools in the district, and in some areas, the state. And while budget cuts have ended some programs including its famed orchestra, the school still offers a wide array of extra-circular activities, including art programs, dance, drama, clubs that cover forensics to foreign languages, sports, and a world-class marching band. In 2011 and 2012, the Cass Tech football team won back-to-back state championships, bringing national attention to the school. After raising money from the public and corporate sponsors, the marching band attended the 2013 presidential inauguration in Washington, DC and performed in the Presidential Inauguration Festival at the University of Maryland.
The Cass Technical High School of today is a very different school than it was 50 years ago, just as the city has changed in that time as well. But despite the loss of the old building, Cass continues to play a vital roll in the recovery and growth of the city. The spirit that was fostered in the classrooms and hallways of the old buildings persists today, in the most challenging educational environment in the country.