Strict budget cuts and low enrollment is causing many schools to close and students to be rerouted to different buildings. Unfortunately, abandoned schools have a negative effect on property values in the neighborhood, according to Metro Pulse. Instead of allowing these buildings to remain abandoned, costing school districts thousands in ongoing maintenance, they can be repurposed for private schools, nonprofit organizations and even businesses. Schools also can be repurposed as apartment or office buildings through structural and internal design changes.
Create a plan for what you want to do with the building. Provide detailed drawings of how the building will be used. Identify any benefits the community will receive from your use of the abandoned school. Detail structural or internal changes that will need to be made to the building. Explore any inconveniences close neighbors may experience, and propose solutions.
Read More: What Does Area Zoned C-2 Mean?
Contact your local zoning office, city hall or planning board to determine how the school property is zoned. Submit a request for the zoning details of the tract. Request a zoning map of the area surrounding the school to help identify any neighborhood inconveniences. This information may be available on your city’s home page. The individuals in the zoning office should help you with this request if you have additional questions.
Create a petition for residents to sign if they approve of your idea. Make sure your petition is detailed about what you plan to do with the building. Conduct a survey of the neighborhood. You may have to go door-to-door or set up a booth in a high-traffic area to get enough signatures. Typically 100 signatures are enough, but larger cities may require more. Provide details about your plan to the community as you are gathering signatures so the public is well informed about what you are hoping to do in their neighborhood.
File a petition for educational or recreational conversion with the local district clerk of court. The clerk will submit your petition to the county election board where the school is located. A ballot initiative may be created for a public vote on the first election after the board receives the petition. If the votes approve the measure, you have use of the school for your plan.
Submit your proposal and petition to the school board and city council for all other conversions and uses of the school. Submit your full plan, identify all possible problems and concerns, and identify the zoning issues that may be encountered. Share your financing information and submit the petition.
Prepare yourself for a school board hearing and a public hearing. Bring individuals who support your idea, especially residents of the area. Zoning issues and building approval may be resolved in the public hearing if the use is approved; however, the council may require public notices be placed in the local paper and letters be sent to the neighborhood residents or the public at large. Provided no negative responses are received, the council will approve the use and the school will be sold and re-purposed.
Get a lawyer, architect and any other professional, including prospective employees, you will need to fight for your school conversion plan.
- State of Indiana: Community Use of School Property
- Metro Pulse; Our Abandoned Schools; Jack Neely; 2008
- Illinois Institute of Rural Affairs; Rural Research Report - Abandoned School Buildings in Rural Illinois and Their Conversions; Karin Spader; 2007
- Williams News; Mixed-use Plan Approved for Abandoned Williams School; Ryan Williams; 2011
- Good Education; What Should We Do with Abandoned School Buildings; 2011
- Topeka-Capital Journal; USD 201 Looks to Repurpose Closed Schools; 2011
Rebekah Smith is a writer and editor from Montana and the owner of several businesses. Smith has consulted and worked with businesses in the fields of commercial greenhouses, ecommerce, technology and home improvement. She holds a Master of Business Administration and is working on a Ph.D. in business.