Albion College To Transfer Ownership of Historic Washington Gardner School To Zero Day

November 7, 2023

Albion College announced today it has entered into an agreement with Michigan-based nonprofit, Zero Day (, for them to acquire, develop, and manage an affordable senior residence with senior community amenities and space for vocational training and employment programs for US veterans on the site of the former Washington Gardner School (E. Michigan Ave., Albion, MI 49224).

“We are excited to have found a partner in Zero Day, who comes with a long track record of supporting community development and transforming lives in Michigan,” said Wayne Webster, president of Albion College. “We are confident this agreement will serve the residents of the City of Albion, while preserving the legacy of one of its most treasured citizens, Mr. Washington Gardner.”

Beyond its beautiful architecture, the 2.875-acre site and 117,000 sq. ft., three-story school building holds much significance in the local community, having been named in 1928 for one of Albion’s most distinguished citizens, Washington Gardner. Mr. Gardner had an extremely varied background that included being a soldier, an attorney, a banker, an industrialist, a Methodist minister, professor and vice president at Albion College, Secretary of State for Michigan, a six-term member of the US Congress, and an author.

The College assumed ownership of the Washington Gardner property in 2011 through a public bidding process following the 2009 closure of Washington Gardner Middle School. Albion College’s goals at the time of ownership were to preserve one of Albion’s beloved historical landmarks and find a permanent use for the property that would meet real and emergent College needs within available resources. In the intervening years, however, the property has remained significantly underutilized. At its peak, the property has been used to house a golf simulator and practice space, art studios, flexible meeting and presentation spaces, class space during the pandemic, and as a COVID-19 testing center for Calhoun County.

“Over the past few months as we’ve analyzed the College’s existing real estate footprint, Washington Gardner continued to be among the locations of interest for cost savings due to its lack of use over an extended period and the lifecycle costs of maintenance and operation,” added Webster. “When meeting with city leaders and reaching out to potential partners, our priority was to identify a productive use for the location that would serve the interests of the City of Albion and Michigan, while preserving the legacy of Mr. Gardner. It also was paramount that the property included deed restrictions so that it is not used now or any time in the future in a manner detrimental to the safety, appearance, or learning environment of Albion College and the local community.”

Zero Day, together with long-term partners, Allied Argenta and Cinnaire, will renovate the Washington Gardner property to accommodate approximately 61 affordable senior housing residences as well as service spaces. Residents will be able to take advantage of quality of life and community engagement amenities such as transportation, community events, wellness programs, vocational training/certifications, and employment programs provided through Zero Day’s comprehensive Veteran services. Interested Albion College students will also be able to seek out volunteer and vocational training opportunities through the program.

Nearby Zero Day projects include: Cherry Hill Village in Canton, Augress Medical in Battle Creek, and the Michigan School for the Blind campus in Lansing. Allied Argenta has helped financially restructure and/or renovate more than 2,750 units to serve extremely low to moderate income families and individuals across 16 states.

Cinnaire, a Lansing-based nonprofit investment and development firm focused on low-income and vulnerable individuals, has been paramount in the creation of Zero Day and its community development and revitalization projects. They have been a key partner supporting housing needs in Albion and will be critical in creating a sustainable financial structure for this project.

A public process focused on assessing the viability of this project, including working with local government around zoning and permits, will now commence. Zero Day will also use this time to accumulate grant and tax credit funding to make the reimagining of this space possible. It is expected that these processes will take one year to be completed and during that time we will analyze where our programs currently housed in this space can be relocated on campus.