May 17, 2023

Here’s how IPS will reuse closed school buildings and who moves in

Francis Parker School 56 on city's northeast side was considered to be demolished by the district due to poor facility conditions. Now some charter school operators are interested in the building. - Eric Weddle / WFYI

Francis Parker School 56 on city's northeast side was considered to be demolished by the district due to poor facility conditions. Now some charter school operators are interested in the building.

Eric Weddle / WFYI

The Indianapolis Public Schools Board approved reuse plans for school buildings that will close this summer and formally shuttered facilities no longer providing academic instruction to students. The decision comes after multiple charter school organizations sought to acquire some buildings under a law that would allow a $1 purchase.

Officials said they sought to balance a community’s interest, geographic benefits of a building location and the cost to maintain a building in their approach to finding partners or new uses for the empty schools.

According to an IPS facilities study released last year, 15 of 67 IPS school buildings are in poor or worse condition. Voters recently approved a $410 million capital referendum to fund improvements on nearly two dozen buildings.

The closures are part of the district’s Rebuilding Stronger plan, which aims to provide more academic and extracurricular offerings through limiting elementary schools to grades K-5 and opening middle schools for students in grades 6-8. The plan also includes closing and merging six schools.

The so-called “$1 law” requires public school districts to sell or lease unused buildings to charter schools for one dollar. IPS has previously avoided the law by housing administrative departments in unused facilities.

Lawmakers just altered the law by carving out an exception to it for school corporations that share property-tax referenda revenue with nearby charter schools.

Earlier this year, leaders at Victory College Prep, a K-12 charter school on the southeast side of Indianapolis, announced their intent to acquire Paul Miller Elementary School 114 once it closes at the end of the school year.

But Tuesday the board approved the school building to become the new home of its Facility Maintenance Division teams, and an adult education program through the Goodwill Excel Center. Last month the Indianapolis Charter School Board granted a charter school reapplication for Goodwill Education Initiatives to open its seventh local center in School 114.

VCP declined to comment on School 114, but continues efforts to acquire other properties.

Johnson said there are multiple ways using School 114 could be beneficial for the district and the community.

“[I’m] incredibly excited about having both our FMD teams and the Excel in that building, because we believe that there is the opportunity to build some partnerships so that students who are in the Excel Center, upon completion, could be able to explore opportunities in our FMD team,” Johnson said.

Floro Torrence School 83 and George Buck School 94 will provide temporary, multi-year use to some students and staff with the Indiana school of the Blind and Visually Impaired as their facilities undergo renovations.

Susan Leach School 68, which hasn’t been used for student instruction since 2019, will be used for warehousing, as well as shipping, receiving and distribution. Those duties are currently performed at locations such as Broad Ripple High School and the shuttered Thomas Carr Howe families, but those buildings will reopen in fall 2024 as middle schools. In recent years, School 68 has been used to distribute care packages to people experiencing homelessness, and house people exposed to COVID-19. 

Under the initial draft of the Rebuilding Stronger plan, IPS proposed demolishing Francis Parker School 56 on the northeast side so the district could construct a new building. The facility was rated as "poor" condition. The building will now remain in place.

Johnson said they have not determined how to use the building in the future, but wants to use it in the future for instructional purposes while maintaining the facility’s historical significance, despite its condition. 

KIPP Indy is one of the education groups interested in School 56, said Bill Murphy, IPS chief operations officer. The charter organizer operates two nearby schools.

IPS said they will work with the community over the next few months to decide what to do with two other buildings — Raymond Brandes School 65 and Francis Bellamy School 102.

Adelante Schools, a charter school who already partners with IPS in a district facility, is interested in School 65.

Before the board vote, commissioner Will Pritchard said it makes sense for charter schools to use the buildings of School 56 and School 65.

“Thought I know it is complicated. There’s lot to work through,” Pritchard said. “My encouragement on that piece is to move as quickly as we can to both find something to do with these buildings that meets the needs of the community but also builds faith in the current partnerships that we have with the schools that are interested in those buildings.”

Reuse plans for these buildings are expected to be announced in the next few months, district officials said.

Contact WFYI education reporter Elizabeth Gabriel at Follow on Twitter: @_elizabethgabs.

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