Abandoned no more: Schools become housing

Communities are looking at old and empty schools with an eye toward new homes and revenue.

By Bruce Kennedy Jan 24, 2013 9:55AM

Credit: Via: http://aka.ms/ngimro; 2013 Queen Anne High School
Caption: Queen Anne High School CondominiumsIt's becoming a common sight in many U.S. towns and cities: Old, sturdy and sometimes quite beautiful former public school buildings are being converted into housing.

Prices for the new homes can run the economic spectrum, from publicly funded low-income apartments to top-dollar condominiums.

While we Americans are often criticized for our throwaway culture, we’ve also employed some interesting creative and financial ideas to give former schools a new purpose and identity in their neighborhoods.

The U.S. Department of Education says that while 1,826 new schools were opened nationwide in the 2009-10 school year, 1,822 were closed as community demographics and finances changed.


But rather than stand empty for years or get torn down, shuttered schools are coming back to life as many communities consider alternatives.


The federal government began providing tax incentives for historic preservation projects in 1976. And among those projects, the conversion of defunct public schools into housing has grown in popularity.

"Unused public school buildings can be a great resource for increasing a community’s affordable housing supply," the Department of Housing and Urban Development says on its website. "When the buildings have cultural or historic significance, their redevelopment can also help revitalize and strengthen the community."

HUD notes that the renovation projects often bring real-estate developers, community members and local governments together in ways that can bring long-term economic benefits to a district.

The former Kellogg Elementary school in Wichita, Kan., has been converted into stylish rental apartments for $1.6 million. The developers say they originally considered getting the government tax reductions for restoring a historic building but ruled that out, saying it would have slowed the project’s completion.

The Wichita Business Journal says the apartments -- which run in price from $800 to $1,500 a month -- include upgraded amenities like granite countertops. But the developers also took advantage of the building’s existing and highly coveted architectural features, like hardwood floors, large windows and high ceilings. They also incorporated bits and pieces from the school’s history into some apartments, such as leaving old chalk boards and bathroom tiles in place.

Creative funding can also come into play with some school conversions.

Provo, Utah, saved its landmark Maeser School from destruction and helped to revitalize a neighborhood. Built in 1898, it was the oldest operating public school in Utah when it closed in 2002.

The local school district tried to sell the property but had no success. "They were on the verge of tearing the school down -- two weeks away from the wrecking ball -- when we agreed to purchase the building and the entire city block at their asking price," Douglas Carlson, with the Provo City Housing Authority, told Affordable Housing Finance at the time.

Carson said the city was challenged by the extensive renovation work needed to convert the school into 31 units of affordable housing for low-income seniors.

To stay on budget, the Provo Housing Authority got financing from 14 funding sources and raised $5.2 million, including from HUD grants, low-income housing tax credits and state historic tax credits.

The Maeser School Apartments, completed in 2006, are considered a prime example of what a successful school conversion can do for a community’s housing needs while preserving local history and reviving local neighborhoods.

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Jan 25, 2013 6:52PM
Wish OSF Saint James did that for the Hospital in Pontiac IL but they destroyed it would been nice 4-6 story hospital that would been awsome for seniors as it had hand rails in all of its bathroom and would been nice rooms was bigger than prison cells and big could threw in a kitchen into it aswell.
Jan 25, 2013 9:21AM
great idea:  but make rules any riff raff has to be kicked out.
Jan 24, 2013 6:56PM

I attened Queen Anne High School in 1961-62 when the Worlds Fair with the Space Needle was constructed.  The usual view of Seattle shows the space Needle in the fore ground and downtown Seattle in the background, this is the view from Queen Anne high school (as it is on "Frazier").  My high school annual shows pictures of the Worlds Fair under construction, and I used to ride past it on the bus back to Magnolia Bluff where I lived.  Additionally, it is a short commute into downtown.  I'll bet these are expensive.



Jan 24, 2013 6:40PM
might as well. There not teaching anything germane to the constitution, american history or, english  anyway.
Jan 24, 2013 6:17PM

I thank the old schools would make good welfare housing. I have long contented anyone on welfare should not have better housing than a working person.  My thoughts are they could convert each class room in to living space for one family they would not need food stamps DHS could provide food in the lunch rooms they could put in a laundry room for everyone to use and also they could use the bathrooms that are already there  just need to add some showers. If they want their own housing then go to work.

They had to get big grant dollars to do this. Why not just let the market prevail and end exclusionary zoning so we can decide for ourselves what kind of home we wish to live in? I went from paying $3,720/yr in lot rent to a mobile home park to paying $662/yr in property taxes once I was allowed to move my singlewide out of the mobile home park and onto a residential lot. Too bad I had to move the singlewide 300 miles away to do this. Now that's affordable housing. HUD should ban formaldehyde from manufactured housing to make this affordable housing easier to live in.
Jan 24, 2013 5:39PM
A fine idea for keeping neighborhoods alive and provide reasonable housing.
Jan 24, 2013 5:36PM
Have to wonder how long this will go on, since the vast majority of schools built after WWII are eyesores...
Jan 24, 2013 3:47PM
These old schools are a symbol of corporal punishment and abuse handed out to our biggest minorities. They should be torn down and leveled so we don't have to think about the millions who have been enslaved from an early age to the industrial complex of crooked democratic politicians. Please remove the reminders that we have not ever been a free society. Only institutions such as Harvard are worthy of saving. Now Harvard would make a good low class housing project.
Jan 24, 2013 10:51AM
The era of class room education will give way to the internet.  These buildings are monuments to old technology as much as Post Offices are today.   In the next 20 years, expect the internet to begin offering more and more classes online.   A single instructor can teach 300 pupils online.   

This will come to pass.   It is good to see these structures used for something else, rather than be torn down.   The real crime is all the investment the USA has and keeps making in outdated teaching methods.   

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