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School districts work to give second life to old buildings

The Oklahoma City School Board agreed to sell a school that has sat empty for years for $110,000. The district owns more than a half dozen empty schools. Large school districts across the country are saddled with buildings left empty because of declining enrollment and a charter school boom.
BY CARRIE COPPERNOLL Published: April 18, 2013

Deserted schools with peeling paint and boarded up windows dot Oklahoma City.

It's a common sight in urban school districts nationwide, and researchers predict it's only going to get worse.

“The challenge of finding a function for these buildings is daunting,” said Emily Dowdall, senior associate at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The Oklahoma City School Board decided this week to sell one of nine surplus schools — Gateway Academy, 721 W Britton Road.

The district stopped using the building in the late 1990s, Chief Operations Officer Jim Burkey said. It leased the school for a few years to Eagle Ridge Institute, a youth development program.

The Oklahoma City School Board recently pushed district staffers to sell surplus properties. The board also asked that bidders disclose their intentions for the land and buildings.

The board had four offers for the former Gateway Academy and chose a $110,000 bid from JAB Consulting, which reportedly will turn the property into a learning center for tutoring, professional development and testing. The other options were for the school to be a nonprofit community center, a vocational training center or a retail site.

This was the second time the district tried to sell the property. A 2011 deal fell through.

Large-scale school closings are becoming more common nationwide, Dowdall said. Just last month, officials at Chicago Public Schools announced plans to close more than 50 schools this summer.

Two forces are working against public school enrollment today, Dowdall said.

• The population of school-age children is declining at a faster rate than the overall population as the nation ages.

• Charter schools are becoming more popular.

“These trends, combined with tighter budgets, are forcing districts to act,” Dowdall said.

The study looked at more than 250 properties in a dozen cities during a seven-year period, Dowdall said.

Who is buying?

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