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Study looks at who purchases closed school buildings in Philadelphia, other cities

2/15/2013 | Real Estate Blog

According to a recent study of other urban school districts’ closures by the Pew Charitable Trusts, charter schools are poised to purchase abandoned buildings. In fact, the organization found that over 40 percent of cities’ closed buildings were being reused by charter schools. Although another common reuse of such buildings is housing, repurposing schools as commercial sites often doesn’t sit well with local communities, which feel a sense of ownership of buildings

Of the 12 cities examined in the Pew study, Philadelphia is the only one to have a formal reuse policy. That policy gives preference and discounts to educational or nonprofit buyers, which gives an advantage to charters. As Philadelphia Superintended William R. Hite Jr. has pointed out, “Our business is education. It is not economic development or moving real estate.”

The organization also said that districts often receive less for old properties than they were expecting, in part because old schools often feature layouts that are difficult to adapt to uses other than schools. Because of this, these properties may sit on the market untouched for years before being purchased.

Last year, Philadelphia put 12 vacant buildings on the market. Six of them were approved for sale at prices ranging from $1 million for the old Roberto Clemente Middle School, to $6 million for the old West Philadelphia High building. For those six recent sales, the district received 63 percent of its asking price.

The research pointed out that buildings that do not sell right away mean continued expenses for districts-maintenance, security, insurance. Closed down school can be difficult to sell, particularly if they are in poor physical condition and are located in undesirable neighborhoods. Rather than handling the sales themselves, some districts hire brokers.

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, “How to reuse closed school buildings? Often, charters,” Kristen A. Graham, February 12, 2013