Gary has more closed school buildings than any city in Indiana. Gary's 12 vacant buildings are four times the number in Indianapolis and Richmond.
Gary Community School Corp. Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt and the school district's attorneys are looking for new uses for those buildings. It's an urgent task.
"We're looking at a holistic approach, something that could help the entire city," Pruitt said. "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."
Meanwhile, the buildings require elementary maintenance -- mowing, replacing missing boards and other basic care. That's money that should go toward educating children.
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said some of the closed school buildings are included in her vision for the city. She has talked with Pruitt and other school officials about including Franklin Elementary School as part of the University Park project.
"We're looking at a collective vision for all of those areas," Freeman-Wilson said. 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."
State law says unused school buildings should be made available to charter schools. But other uses can be found as well.
The former Tolleston Middle School, for example, is being transformed into a new Boys & Girls Club center.
Gary school and municipal officials should look at the Tolleston project for lessons in how to transform a vacant school into a successful location for one or more nonprofits.
Mobilize volunteers from throughout the region to clean out those buildings, even before new uses are found. Market the sites aggressively.
Put those sites to new uses, whether for charter schools, nonprofits, commercial or residential use. Work with city planners and others to find appropriate new uses for these sites.
The key is for the school district to jettison those properties so they no longer are a drain on the district's resources and aren't eyesores.