Mayor’s committee releases recommendations for vacant schools

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Maintaining vacant schools would cost the Chicago Public Schools some $3.5 million a year, according to a report issued Friday by the mayor’s Advisory Committee for School Repurposing and Community Development.

The committee disclosed the estimate in a report outlining procedures for putting vacant schools back to work. The costs averaged $81,000 for each of 43 buildings and ranged from $17,000 to maintain Buckingham to $256,000 to keep Morgan up.

The committee calls for a three-phase repurposing process that would include community hearings and a fund that would funnel the proceeds from the sale of some buildings to help pay for the repurposing of others. Many of the properties, the committee says, could be used to help fulfill the city’s environmental, development and housing plans.

In the first phase, some of the buildings would be transferred to sister agencies or temporarily leased to nonprofits. That already is underway with three schools, the committee said:

*The city’s Department of Fleet and Facility Management may take over King Elementary.

*Chicago High School for the Arts is expected to find its permanent home at Lafayette Elementary.

*Fiske Elementary already is being used by Woodlawn Children’s Promise Community, a nonprofit, to house community programs and an alternative school.

Also, CPS may wish to retain a school for some purpose but not yet know which school, the report notes.

Following such pairings, schools that remain vacant would be offered up for bid – by the end of 2014. A committee made up of CPS staffers and experts in various fields would make recommendations on the bids, considering such factors as financial viability, how quickly the project could be carried out, the bidder’s experience and ability to follow through on its plans, community support, the possibility for local hiring, and other potential benefits. Community meetings would be held to get feedback on the bids.

The CPS Board of Education would have to approve potential reuses.

Properties that remain after the bidding process would be “transferred to a third-party revitalization partner” to maintain and market the buildings. Again, CPS would have final approval.

For schools left vacant after that process, the revitalization partners ultimately would have the authority to decide a building’s fate, which could include demolition.

Eventually, the report says, the properties could be used by churches, urban farming projects, community centers, private schools or contract schools, affordable housing, health clinics or Park District activity centers.