Shuttered Schools a Growing Challenge in Cities Across the U.S.

Although young adults and baby boomers are flocking back to America's cities, declines in K-12 enrollment are causing many cities to close their schools. A new report looks at the commons challenges in finding new uses for these buildings.
February 12, 2013, 11am PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Lesli A. Maxwell looks at a new report [PDF] from The Pew Charitable Trusts that examines how 12 urban school districts across the country are managing their "growing inventory of empty and shuttered buildings that are difficult to sell, lease, or otherwise repurpose..."

"Though there is wide variability among district's real estate markets or local policies around the reuse of school buildings, they all face common challenges when trying to find new life for surplus buildings, the Pew report found. Chief among them:

  • Size—School buildings are big. Most of them exceed 50,000 square feet and are not well-suited for other types of enterprises;
  • Age—The typical building is more than 60 years old and some are as old as 100 years, making them costly to refurbish and update for modern use;
  • Location—Many shuttered buildings are in neighborhoods where the residential population is shrinking and real estate values are already low."

In deciding what to do with shuttered schools, cities are often left with a series of bad options, including: demolishing them, holding onto them indefinitely (and incurring costs in insuring, maintaining, and securing them), or selling them ("usually at a lower price than projected").

According to Maxwell, "The shutdown of schools in cities has triggered a loud and growing backlash recently and prompted parent and student groups in several cities to call for a moratorium on closures and to file formal complaints with civil rights officials in the U.S. Department of Education."

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Published on Monday, February 11, 2013 in Education Week
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