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As CPS mulls school closings, study finds city already has plenty of vacant school buildings

The Board Educatiseal. File pho | Chandler West~Sun-Times

The Board of Education seal. File photo | Chandler West~Sun-Times

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Updated: March 13, 2013 6:20AM

As the Chicago Public Schools system prepares to shutter more schools, a study released Monday concluded that Chicago is already awash in vacant school property for sale, with 24 shuttered CPS sites on the market plus about as many old Catholic schools for sale or lease.

Most of Chicago’s vacant schools have been so for more than 10 years, and the longer schools are empty, the harder it is to sell them, according to the report released by the Pew Charitable Trust ahead of massive school actions expected soon in several major American cities.

“The challenge of finding new uses for old buildings is daunting, and the downside of letting them sit idle can be significant,” according to “Shuttered Public Schools: The Struggle to Bring Old Buildings New Life.”

Philadelphia is expected to close 37 schools by year’s end; Washington, D.C., wants to close more than a dozen.

Chicago will announce a preliminary list of schools it could close on Wednesday, and its official list by the end of March. The mayor is said to be targeting about 50, though district officials refuse to say so far how many it could shut down, adding to CPS’ sales portfolio.

The district, facing a steep budget deficit, wants to get rid of surplus property. And CPS has managed to sell, lease or repurpose 17 buildings between 2005 and 2012, according to Pew, which reported sales prices of between $200,000 and $1 million, often far below initial estimates.

Meanwhile, districts must pay for maintenance, security and insurance while looking for new occupants, which Pew says explains why the net operating savings of closing a building is less than $1 million. And if buildings fall into disrepair, the surrounding communitysuffers, according to the report.

Chicago has moved from leasing its empty buildings to aggressively marketing them for sale, but unlike many of the other 11 districts Pew studied, Chicago isn’t selling to charters any longer, Pew researcher Emily Dowdall said, adding “They’re concerned that the growth of charters could lead to empty seats down the road.”

CPS spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler couldn’t say how long the sites — 10 buildings and 14 lots and parcels of land — have been vacant. She said the district hired brokers to get the properties sold for the best offer, “with proceeds from these sales helping offset the financial crisis the District faces.”

“These efforts will help us to be successful in reducing our footprint and redirecting resources to our classrooms,” she said in an email.

School buildings in the 12 studied cities have been used for housing, offices and community centers, but are sometimes tricky to sell because of their particular designs.

And Chicago has empty Catholic schools, too. The Archdiocese of Chicago confirmed that it currently has 23 schools for lease, plus three schools currently for sale — former Blessed Sacrament School and Convent, 2128-30 S. Central Park, for $700,000; the former Presentation church, school and parking lot, 3900 W. Lexington for $680,000, and the former St. Mary of the Assumption Church, school, convent, rectory and parking lot at 310 E. 137th Street for $1,250,000.

“School buildings are important because of their location in communities where school age children live. Up until now, there has been no competition, so we will wait to see what happens when CPS closes schools,” Thomas Kennedy, the Archdiocesan Director of Real Estate Management and Development, said in an email through a spokeswoman.

In July, when CPS chief administration officer Tim Cawley solicited brokers to sell eight of the district sites, he thought they could be worth $15 million.

Among the buildings CPS offers are 7401 S. Chappell Ave., 1540 W. 84th St., 2317 W. 23rd St., 6615 S. Kenwood Ave., 10211 S. Crandon Ave., 4421 S. State St., 13425 S Baltimore, 9101 S. Jeffery Blvd. and 1855 N. Sheffield Ave.

It’s also trying to sell an office building at 1234 W. 95th St., best known as a building where state Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago) enjoyed a rent-free deal for years.

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