U of D Jesuit’s purchase of Detroit rec center will double school's campus, help community

An artist’s rendering shows what the completed renovation of the Johnson Recreation Center will look like once University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy finishes a $7.5 million renovation next year. The school purchased the long-vacant rec center from the city of Detroit and plans to use the facility to for school athletics and programs as well as community events. (Courtesy photo)

Partnership with city of Detroit described as a ‘win-win’ for students, athletes and neighborhood

DETROIT — University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy will begin a $7.5 million renovation of the long-vacant Johnson Recreation Center on Chippewa Avenue, following the recent sale of the facility by the city of Detroit. 

The 30,000-square-foot recreation center has remained empty since its closing in 2006. The Detroit City Council approved the building’s sale in May 2019, and the U of D Jesuit board recently approved the deal, which includes a Community Benefits Agreement with the city. Renovations are slated to start this summer.

“U of D Jesuit is taking another historic step in its commitment to Detroit and the tradition of Jesuit education,” the school’s president, Fr. Theodore G. Munz, SJ, said in a news release. “Our students will have unrivaled athletic facilities in the city of Detroit. 

“Our neighbors will once again enjoy using the Johnson Recreation Center that has been shuttered for the past 14 years, and that U of D Jesuit is revitalizing,” Fr. Munz said. “I am thankful to all those who have brought us to this moment and to our alumni, parents and friends whose generous gifts make this possible.”

Renovations will include a gym, locker rooms and community meeting spaces. Three soccer and lacrosse fields will be built among the 10.5 acres of open green space, including Joe Louis Park. The indoor swimming pool that was built in the 1940s and ’50s is beyond repair and will be refurbished as an open area for indoor sports such as soccer, according to Jim Adams, U of D Jesuit’s communications manager. 

Construction on the fields is expected to be completed by spring 2021, and work on the center will wrap up in summer 2021.

“This type of arrangement is truly a win-win for the people of Detroit and the neighborhoods,” Julie Schneider, deputy director of the city’s Housing and Revitalization Department, said in a news release. “By taking on the cost of running these centers, they are helping to reopen these crucial neighborhood resources and embodying the definition of community. It is another example of the wide range of ways our department serves the people of Detroit.”

Once renovations are complete, it will double the size of the school’s campus, allowing for better scheduling of athletic practices and games.

“We have some students who don’t get home until 8:30 p.m. because of the limited number of fields and courts we have currently. Once the project is complete, students will get home earlier and have more study time,” Adams said. “Throughout the entire year, it will help the overall experience for our students.” 

Through the Community Benefits Agreement, in addition to maintaining the recreation center and the fields, U of D Jesuit will offer the building at no cost for neighborhood association meetings. Summer youth camps will have a small fee, which is still being determined, but will be open to children in the area, Adams said. Additionally, the school plans to offer service opportunities for its students and staff, including tutoring and mentoring children. 

The Johnson Recreation Center was built in 1956 and is named in honor of Sheldon Johnson. Johnson promoted recreation opportunities in Detroit, including petitioning the city to build a swimming pool at the Joe Louis Park to help African-American Detroiters who did not know how to swim. U of D Jesuit will honor the site’s rich history by constructing a permanent historical exhibit inside the recreation center.