The Oklahoma City School District has a glut of vacant properties. Some, like the old John Marshall High School, were abandoned recently in favor of new schools built under MAPS for Kids. Others, like the Dunjee Field House, have been vacant for years. The district owns 16 vacant buildings or lots, and that number could grow as schools are consolidated in the face of a growing budget shortfall and smaller student populations. "I’ve never had a position where I’ve seen so much vacant property,” said Jim Burkey, the district’s chief operations officer. "It’s a very serious liability problem for the district.” The school board recently voted to sell six of those properties, raising the question of what can be done with vacant school buildings. For sale are the old John Marshall High School and Creston Hills and Willard elementary schools. All were closed as part of MAPS projects. Also for sale are the Sunnyside, Sunset and Truman properties, which closed in the 1990s or earlier. Burkey said the sale of the properties could bring in between $500,000 and $1.2 million. "If we were to eliminate, get rid of all our vacant properties, it would be a savings of $30,000 annually just on the insurance,” Burkey said. For example, last Independence Day, teenagers set off fireworks in the old Truman Elementary School on Kelham Drive, catching the building on fire. It cost the district $94,000 to demolish the building, Burkey said.
New purpose for old schoolsJim Sconzo, executive director of the Community Action Agency, said his organization loves the two school buildings it rents from the district. "We use school buildings and we keep them up and keep them in good shape,” he said. "The school district can’t maintain them. They’re short of money right now.” Sconzo was a board member on a task force created when the first schools began closing under MAPS for Kids. The committee was tasked with finding uses for buildings so they would remain viable; however, Sconzo said that group is long since disbanded. Lois Selder said she ran an after-school program in the old Gateway Alternative School, which is now for sale, for more than a year before they had to move to a more affordable location. "It is a challenge because you have children over there who could play ball on the field. It has a gym, a theater, maybe dance practice,” Selder said. But in the long run, old school buildings, especially those with environmental issues like lead paint and asbestos, might only have value in their land. Star Elementary School, 8917 NE 23, was sold and demolished. The site now has a Walgreens. Several other district-owned buildings are being used by charter schools.
More schools to closePeak enrollment in the district was in 1967 at 77,000, and in that decade 17 schools were built. Enrollment today is at 40,000 students. The soon-to-close Parker Elementary School had as few as 100 students before it merged with nearby Green Pastures Elementary with 76 students. The original MAPS for Kids plan called for 12 school buildings to close. Some of the schools originally marked for closure, like Capitol Hill, Hayes, Spencer, Arthur and Rockwood elementary schools, later were selected to remain open because of shifting populations. But as many as six more schools could close before the renovations are completed in 2012. The school board this month discussed the possibility of closing additional schools that weren’t on the list, but that have low student enrollment.