CPS School Closings Will Leave 61 Vacant Buildings: What Happens to Them?

By Lizzie Schiffman on March 25, 2013 6:19am | Updated on March 25, 2013 8:22am

CHICAGO — Chicago Public Schools' reshuffling of 30,000 public school students will vacate 61 buildings, a cost-saving measure it said will get kids into better facilities and avoid spending money updating dilapidated structures.

But what will happen to the buildings they leave behind?

Tim Cawley, CPS chief administrative officer, said the district is still in the process of unloading buildings vacated from last year's closures.

"We haven't closed on any buildings closed last year, but we have offers," he said, adding that CPS is in the final phases of fielding bids at some locations.

Cawley said public schools' CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, "has had multiple conversations with community leaders to try to think about how these schools can continue to serve a useful purpose in their communities."

In many cases, he said CPS will try to sell the properties, which could lead to demolitions or "repurposing."

The building formerly occupied by Price Elementary in North Kenwood now houses a campus for volunteer corp City Year.

John Irwin, a real estate broker with Baird & Warner, said that the marketability of an abandoned school building will depend on several factors, including "what the prospective developer plans to use the land for, what zoning options are available and [whether] the sale would go through in a timely manner with the city."

Irwin, who specializes in North Side real estate, said he was "confident if any of these properties were to become available, they would be very attractive to a developer," assuming that the potential issues mentioned above did not get in the way.

"With the remarkable real estate recovery that we are now experiencing on the North Side, these large tracts of land in some of highly desirable neighborhoods would seem to be a genuine prize," Irwin said.

School officials have been talking to community leaders about ideas to “repurpose” the soon-to-be vacant buildings, Byrd-Bennett said Thursday on WTTW's "Chicago Tonight."

She suggested that some buildings could be used for “consolidation of social services to make a one-stop shopping place for parents,” or “parent universities” where adults could learn to speak English, or for senior housing.

But the failure to generate a profit from selling closed schools won't affect the projected cost savings of $43 million a year from the closures, which CPS defends as a necessity as it contends with a projected $1 billion budget deficit, Byrd-Bennett said,

Pershing East at 3113 S. Rhodes Ave. has been named as a welcoming school for nearby Pershing West, but the students from both programs will relocate to the Pershing West building, freeing up some prime property one block west of the lakefront and a mile from McCormick Place.

But at a news conference last week, city aldermen and Illinois Senate and House members of the black and Latino caucuses pointed to poster-sized images of Crispus Attucks Elementary School taken earlier this month that show the building filled with trash covered in gang-related graffiti.

Rep. Ken Dunkin (D-Chicago) said poorly managed vacant school buildings welcome crime to surrounding neighborhoods before calling for a moratorium on closures for the 2013-14 school year.

Bronzeville resident Steven Guy, whose grandchildren attend several CPS schools on the South and West sides, said he worries the closures are short-sighted and will leave CPS scrambling for more facilities in the future.

"They're building over 5,000 housing [units in Bronzeville]," he said.

If the new residents have children, but local schools are closed, "Where are they going to go to school?" Guy asked.

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