Former St. Clair County school Eddy Elementary reimagined

The old school bells of Eddy Elementary are ringing with new businesses.

Jeff Bohm, Chairman of the St. Clair County Board of Commissioners says the planning of repurposing former schools in the region began 8 to 10 years ago. They were just sitting around not being used, he says.

Eddy Elementary, now known as The Eddy Center, is located at 301 N. 9th St. in St. Clair. The school closed in 2019 but was then bought by Mike and Patrick Vinkier and their partner Rob Drewek with The Vinkier Group, a real estate company. 

The project was originally planned to become a senior living facility but is now turned into a community center filled with businesses and nonprofits. The school is roughly at about 80% capacity after only a year and a half of being open.

“That’s pretty amazing,” Bohm says. “And you’re talking about a 50,000 square-foot school so it’s not like you’re talking about a small rinky-dinky joint.”

The vacant space left inside is classrooms for potential businesses, Bohm says. 

Jeff Bohm, Chairman of the St. Clair County Board of Commissioners.Bohm has his business called the Viking Fitness Center inside the school. When he was allowed to relocate his business, he moved into Eddy as it would be a bigger space compared to where his business previously was.

“It’s a lot better than what I had,” Bohm says.

Another organization inside Eddy is Friends of the St. Clair River. Sheri Faust, president of the environmentally-focused nonprofit, says they began renovating their space, which was formerly the school's principal's office, in 2021 and officially moved in 2022.

“We wanted to be visible, accessible, and centrally located in the county,” Faust says. “We also wanted to be nearby and have access to land and water trails and The Eddy Center accomplished all of that for us.”

The nonprofit rents 3,000 square feet on both floors of the building. They have office spaces for their staff, outdoor equipment, and classrooms they use for workshops and training. The workshops allow for members of the community to come in and learn about different outdoor subjects like how to winter sow seeds.

Demands for our services have grown exponentially, Faust says. This building allows people to come in and support their “on-the-ground work” and environmental education services. She adds, Eddy also fits with the organization's sustainability model. 

“The greenest building is the one that’s already built,” she says.

Sheri Faust, President of Friends of the St. Clair River.

Sheri says they’re already outgrowing their space and are looking to expand inside the building sometime this year. This will allow more people to attend their workshops and training as they can only fit about 40 to 50 people in the classrooms.

The Warm World childcare and education center run by the YMCA of the Blue Water Area is also located inside the elementary school. The child care center opened in June 2023 and Eddy was seen as the perfect option as it was previously built with children in mind. The center serves around 106 children as young as 6 weeks old until they enter kindergarten.

“There was a big void for child care in St. Clair County identified,” Bohm says. “We felt that the old schools could help satisfy that child care need which they have big time.”

Josh Chapman, president of the YMCA of the Blue Water Area, says running childcare is not a profitable endeavor. Before the pandemic, people were already struggling to afford childcare. Then the prices of everything rose and employees were not able to live off these wages so they were leaving the industry. He adds this space gave them the ability to provide quality child care in a community where it was needed.

Josh Chapman, President of the YMCA of the Blue Water Area.“We see kids struggling in school and we know that kids who participate in high-quality child care have better outcomes and perform better,” Chapman says.

Life happens to everyone and because the Y has the support that it does due to our track record and donors, we can provide affordable child care as part of our mission, Chapman says. This also allows parents the ability to join or go back to work, which improves the number of people in the workforce and in turn improves the economy, Chapman says.

Chapman says that since being in the Eddy space, they have been well-received by the public.

“Folks can see the economic driver that it can be, the youth development driver that it can be, and the community driver that it can be,” he says.

Eventually, the child care center is looking to provide after-school programs and day camp opportunities, Chapman says. He adds it’s always their job to respond to the community's needs as they arise.

The City’s Recreation Department also uses Eddy’s gymnasium for pickleball and volleyball. It’s also home to other businesses like Salon 301 Suites and Big River Barbeque.

People are always touring the school as more businesses and organizations become aware of the potential space. 

“This school is used as a model for other vacant schools in the region and we’re happy to be a part of it,” Faust says. “Schools by nature are community centers.”

In the future, a former elementary school in Algonac was recently sold and will potentially be used as a space similar to Eddy. The plans are still in the works.
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Read more articles by Genevieve Fox.

Genevieve Fox is an award-winning journalist from Detroit. Since graduating from Michigan State University, she has built a solid background in environmental reporting and previous experience in radio broadcasting and photography at Great Lakes Echo and WKAR. She is now a freelance writer and a project editor for Metromode's series Macomb Live, Work, Play and Parks and Trails. When not working, she loves spending time outdoors and reading a good book. More by Genevieve Fox.