Gary leaders, educators focus on closed school buildings

2013-07-06T19:45:00Z 2013-07-09T16:28:07Z Gary leaders, educators focus on closed school buildingsCarmen McCollum carmen.mccollum@nwi.com, (219) 662-5337 nwitimes.com

GARY | Gary Community School Corp. will begin the 2012-13 school year with 12 closed buildings.

District Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt and the district's attorneys continue to evaluate the closed school buildings and determine their best use.

"In certain locations, we may be able to collaborate with the city," Pruitt said. "We're looking at a holistic approach, something that could help the entire city. We've talked about a parent center. We've also talked about possibly relocating the administration building into one of the closed buildings. Nothing has been decided."

While no additional Gary school buildings are scheduled to close, Pruitt said everything depends on enrollment. Open enrollment is underway, and parents can access the information on the district's website regarding enrollment and bus transportation.

Pruitt said school officials are doing "basic upkeep" at the closed buildings. In some cases, boards have been torn down and workers will have to go to those sites to reboard, she said.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said her vision for the city would include using some of the school buildings. She said she has had conversations with Pruitt and other school officials regarding Franklin Elementary School as part of the University Park project.

Freeman-Wilson said the Horace Mann, Vohr, Emerson and Spaulding schools could be included as part of a north side development in Gary. Other closed schools also could be part of a new vision for the city.

Freeman-Wilson said the city is working with community groups and other governmental units to determine the best uses and what those areas could look like.

"We're looking at a collective vision for all of those areas," Freeman-Wilson said. "The schools in those areas are part of that footprint. We don't know how they will fit. It could involve demolition. We've talked about a parent resource center, and we believe Franklin School could be an ideal site because of its proximity to both Indiana University Northwest and Ivy Tech Community College."

While Gary officials look at how closed school buildings can be used in the city, Indiana law requires school corporations across the state to submit their list of unused school buildings each year. Indiana law calls for a school corporation to sell or lease unused buildings to charter schools for $1 per year.

Gary Community School Corp. has the largest number of closed school buildings in the state at 12. Indianapolis Public Schools and Richmond Community Schools each have three closed buildings.

Gary Community School Corp. was embroiled in a lawsuit with the operators of LEAD College Preparatory charter school in Gary over the purchase of a school building.

In March, a Superior Court judge ordered the district to lease the Ernie Pyle Elementary School building at 2545 W. 19th Ave. for $1 per year as required by state law to LEAD College Preparatory.

However, the Office of Charter Schools at Ball State University did not renew the charter for LEAD College Prep after several consecutive years of academic failure. The school closed last month.

Gary Superintendent Pruitt said, "It's my understanding that if you don't have a charter you can't get the building. We have not completely closed out that process, but we are working in cooperation with LEAD to close that out."

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