Water Issues at Detroit Central High School

In the name of improving my health, I’ve spent a fair number of mornings walking to the nearby track at Central High School, here in Detroit. Last week, I noticed that the school had been closed a number of days and only discovered over the weekend that it was due to water pressure issues at the school, as documented in this WDIV news story. The story also documents the disagreements between the high school/Michigan Education Achievement Authority, Great Lakes Water Authority, and the Detroit Department of Water and Sewage over where the problem lies, though it doesn’t seem to take into account a major part of the history of the site. I’ve lived in this neighborhood for over 30 of my 44 years, so I’m very familiar with the history, I hope that I can properly enlighten you about what I suspect is going on.

Central High School opened at its current location in 1926, along with Durfee Middle School and Roosevelt Elementary School (which was torn down a few decades ago and integrated into Durfee). At the time of the construction, and until sometime around 2004, the school complex had a steam plant that provided steam (and I believe electricity) to the three schools on the campus. The steam plant (and its long shadow) can be seen on the left side of this satellite photo from December 30, 2002 (courtesy of Google Earth):Central-Durfee Complex 30Dec2002

For documentation’s sake, Central High School is the large building at the top of the image, Durfee Elementary and Middle School is the large building at the bottom. During the improvements to the complex approximately 11-13 years ago, the plant was torn down and replaced with a plant integrated into Central High School. (Among other changes, the track and football field were relocated slightly, and one of the drive ways at the rear of the complex was removed.) The current complex can be seen in this satellite photo from April 11, 2015 (again courtesy of Google Earth):

Central-Durfee Complex 11April2015

What you can also see in this second photo, is evidence supporting my suspicion that the problem with water pressure at the schools has nothing to do with the water supplied to the complex by the Detroit Department of Water and Sewage, but water leaking into the old steam pipes from the steam plant.

Although I have only been walking at the track for a short time, I noticed on my very first visit and every visit since these standing pools of water:

In addition to these, there’s another pool I didn’t photograph next to the stands at the track. The photo below is the merged satellite photos with the locations marked in red.


If you look at the April 2015 satellite photo, you can actually make out two of the pools in the access road from Linwood, which is an indicator that these pools of water have been present for at least a year. Given they haven’t changed much in size during the month or so that I’ve been walking at the complex, these pools must be getting fed by an underground water source that has saturated the land. I’m not an engineer, but I think it’s a short jump in logic to connect the water pressure issues at Central High School with these pools of water.

What I suspect is that the old steam pipes from the steam plant are still present underground, and are still connected to both Central and Durfee, and may even still run to the old location of Roosevelt which sat between the two schools. Durfee, on November 12-13, 2014, had heating issues as documented by another local television station, WXYZ in their news story. At that time, there was a small pit emitting steam near the northwest corner of the school; while that was probably a connecting pipe from the new steam/heating plant at Central, it still could be a sign that the old pipes are still in place and water might be leaking into them.

My final bit of supporting evidence is personal testimony; on several occasions while walking on the track, I saw the new steam plant venting large amounts of steam. I believe the date was Saturday April 30, 2016 when I witnessed it belching steam every 1-2 minutes while I walked around the track. Again, I’m no engineer or expert on steam boilers, but from experience with the boiler in my home,  they tend to build up a lot of pressure when the water level in the boiler is low. Releasing/venting steam might have been done automatically to prevent catastrophic failure of the system. (In other words, an explosion.)

Given the large amounts of water at and next to the track, I don’t believe that the Detroit Department of Water and Sewage is responsible for the low water pressure that Central experienced; I believe that the construction to build the new heating plant failed to secure the old pipes and is currently leaking water into the surrounding land. Given that Central is run by the Michigan Education Achievement Authority, which took it over from the Detroit Public Schools, I don’t believe there’s anyone employed at Central that would even be aware of the old steam plant, let alone suspect that there might be leaks to the old pipes.

Finally, given the sinkhole that opened up down the street at Linwood and Monterey on March 29, 2014, I would be surprised that there isn’t a very large sinkhole developing beneath this complex, and would recommend that the immediate area be given a thorough stability study in the near future.

Random Friday Morning Rant

There are two issues on my mind this morning, one of importance to a large number of people, one probably not nearly as many. Well, maybe not in the same way. The big thing on my mind is that there are protesters tying up Detroit’s freeways to complain about the appointment of an emergency financial manager to run the city. The other one, by comparison, is tiny: a few people lost their jobs at LucasArts; although it’s not nearly as important, it does affect a lot of people directly and indirectly. Nonetheless, let’s take these issues in order of magnitude as I see them…

If you’re not familiar with Detroit’s financial struggles, I’ll summarize it by saying there were a number of years after Mayor Dennis Archer left office that were filled with extraordinarily wasteful spending and mismanagement, that combined with the decreasing population, crime, and occasionally hostile relationship with the surrounding communities and state in general led to today’s current financial crisis. The economy tanking didn’t help either. Once mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was forced to resign and went to prison, we were hopeful the city would get better. The interim mayor, Ken Cockrel, Jr, honestly wanted to make a difference, but when he lost the regular term election, he resigned himself to just muddling through like the rest of the city council. When the city didn’t elect him mayor, he basically gave up any hope of improving the city. So as Dave Bing took office, he chose not to do anything to either help or hinder the new administration, and the new administration could certainly have used a lot of help.

Before I go any further, let me state flat out that I believe in democracy. I believe that no one has the right to take away our right to vote and effect changes through the democratic process. I think that Rick Snyder’s emergency manager laws and just about everything he’s done since taking office as Michigan’s governor have been to the detriment of the state of Michigan, and especially to the city of Detroit. So you can clearly understand, I don’t want an emergency financial manager in my city. That said, I don’t want the current mayor or city council either.

In the five years that I’ve been back in Michigan, the mayor’s office and city council, regardless of administration and individuals in office, have proven not only to be inept as managers of the city’s finances, but incompetent in terms of running the city and protecting its citizens. Every time they’ve had the opportunity to make a positive difference for the city, they’ve failed to do so. At every opportunity to protect the citizens of Detroit, they’ve failed to act. Whenever there was opportunity to hire police and fire personnel, they’ve chosen to cut their pay, stretch their hours, and put the blame on them for the city’s inability to meet its financial obligations. Mind you, both of those departments have taken at least two or three 10% pay cuts since I’ve been back in Detroit, not to mention cuts to their pension, health insurance and forcing the employees to pay more of their health insurance costs, eliminating overtime, mandatory furloughs, and more. Yet the city council and mayor get driven around in city owned vehicles, have full time police officers guarding them, and make more money a year than probably any five officers on the streets.

The only things that the mayor and city council have excelled at are mismanagement, inaction, and the inability to set aside personal views and bullshit to do what’s in the best interests of the city and its citizens.

But I still don’t want an emergency financial manager. Frankly, the state owes the city several hundred million dollars, and Snyder is constantly dangling a carrot in front of the city’s leaders in order to get his way. It’s really a shame that the city’s leaders were too busy fighting each other to see that. It’s a shame that they couldn’t have worked together when they still had a legal ability to run the city to fix the problems or at least work together long enough to prevent Snyder’s coup de tat.

But you know what I really hate? I hate that there are idiots out there, protesting the emergency financial manager situation, by inconveniencing the people of the city of Detroit by slowing down and halting traffic on the freeways. They claim it’s raising awareness. Where the fuck have you been if you don’t know that Detroit has been in a financial emergency and that the fucking governor has overthrown this democracy? May God forgive me for this, but every GOD DAMNED CITIZEN IN AND AROUND THIS CITY KNOWS WHAT’S GOING ON, and fucking up traffic for everyone isn’t going to help the fucking situation! Did you learn NOTHING from the Detroit New/Detroit Free Press strike in the 90s when they tried the same fucking thing?  Those News and Free Press employees had everyone’s sympathies until they started fucking with the traffic in the exact same way you morons have been doing. You know what happened? The strike fizzled out because they pissed the rest of us the fuck off! What the fuck do you think is going to happen this time? You’re going to lose any sympathy you might have otherwise gained by making people late to work, miss their planes, and otherwise inconveniencing them. Do protests the traditional way or the modern way. The Arab Spring was started as a series of social network posts; are you idiots so backwards and dumb that you can’t match what those souls overseas did? Fuck! Get a fucking clue already!

In the interests of full disclosure, I have barely left my house in the last week because of work so these “protests” haven’t affected me in the least, but if you’re going to protest, you should do it the right way. You don’t want to piss off the people you’re trying to rally.


I almost don’t even want to talk about the other subject now… But I will because I feel the need to talk about it…

Earlier this week, I read an article that stated that Disney is closing LucasArts games. I think this is tragic for multiple reasons. Perhaps the most important of these reasons are the employees themselves, who now have to find and secure new employment to support their families in an already tough job market. I wish them all the best of luck. If you have some time on your hands and can afford to not get paid for a while, a friend (who works in the game industry as you do) and I might have some ideas if you want to work together…

But my personal spiel on the issue is that right as the company was free from Lucas’ iron grip for the first time in its history, just as its chains fell away so that it may pursue its own destiny, Disney put a bullet into the back of its head.

I admit it. LucasArts hasn’t been what it once was for a very long time. I believe I made a serious rant about Star Wars The Force Unleashed already. I can’t seem to find it, but I’ll say this about the game: it’s heart was in the right place, but it was a horrific failure in many respects. LucasArts outsourced much of the work to other companies, typically those that were more familiar with one platform or another, but the basic fact of the matter is that the story was strained at best, there were numerous graphical issues, and I beat a Jedi master (boss) on one level because she fell off a platform and I didn’t early in the fight. I stood there waiting for about 5 minutes for the fight to continue, but she never returned and eventually timed out. Yes, that’s a win for the 3 physics engines, but it’s shit game play.

But when I think about LucasArts, I don’t think about the more modern games that it put out. I think about The Dig, Sam and Max, Full Throttle, Monkey Island, Dark Forces/Jedi Knight, X-Wing vs Tie Fighter and a whole slew of games from that era. I think about the imaginative forces that went into creating something that wasn’t necessarily visually stunning, but was engaging and endlessly fascinating. I think about the creative staff and minds that came up with those games, and I wonder what the hell happened over the last decade or so.

Then I think about everything George Lucas has done over the last 17 years or so, and I have my answer. George was a visionary. He was extraordinarily creative, and I love what he created. I hope my own work is one day as loved. But between becoming a businessman and a father, he lost that spark. I have no way of knowing, naturally, but I suspect that the offices of LucasFilm and LucasArts were filled with people that wanted to stand up to him on a lot of issues in a lot of the products they’ve released in those 17 years, but were powerless to do a damned thing about it. I think I mentioned that before. But with the sale of LucasFilm, LucasArts, and so on to Disney, there was a glimmer of hope that these talented individuals could have branched out and done something new. They had the hope of bringing something fresh into the Star Wars universe and perhaps fresh new universes altogether. There was so much potential that had just been unchained… But it’s gone now. In the blink of an eye.

I hear that some of what they were working on might still see the light of day. I hear that some employees will be merged into other divisions. But I think the best thing that could have happened is no longer a possibility. It’s very difficult to bring together a team of talented individuals in the best of circumstances. Given the prestige of LucasArts, the pressure of of working with an outstanding legacy, and having to generally bastardize a lot of the things they idolized growing up… One could hardly say that working at LucasArts with Mr. Lucas himself in charge and overseeing everything was the “best” of circumstances… Yet without Lucas there… They had potential again. They could have branched out and explored other avenues. Done things differently for the sake of doing things differently. But that’s gone now. In the blink of an eye.