GARY — The Gary Community School Corp. is looking to sell 24 school properties, including the sites of Lew Wallace High School and Wirt-Emerson Visual & Performing Arts Academy.
The Gary school district shared the list of two dozen properties in a Tuesday night emergency manager meeting following intensifying calls for action after a homicide victim's body was found in the district's vacant Norton Elementary in November.
Gary Emergency Manager Pete Morikis said the district notified Gary Mayor Jerome Prince — per the state law detailing the requirements of the school corporation's state takeover — on Friday of the district's intent to sell the 24 properties, setting off a 30-day window to officially list the district land.
The district will be accepting offers to purchase the properties through 3 p.m. Feb. 10. A complete list of properties for sale is available on the Gary Community School Corp. website at garycsc.k12.in.us/property-sale.
"We said last December that we were going to make the sale of our properties a primary focus and we've done so," Morikis said Tuesday night.
The Tuesday night forum comes two weeks after the city of Gary served the indebted school district with demolition orders for nine abandoned Gary school properties in one of the first acts of new Gary Mayor Jerome Prince's administration.
The mayor said these buildings were selected by his administration as "the most egregious instances of blight." Six of the buildings Gary schools is looking to sell are among the nine properties served with demolition notices.
A hearing is scheduled to weigh the safety of the nine buildings on Feb. 3 at the Gary Common Council chambers. If found unsafe, the district will be given until "on or around March 5" to raze the buildings.
While the school district is seeking buyers through Feb. 10 — a week following the city hearing — Morikis said it is the district's goal to sell properties "as quickly as possible."
Tuesday's forum discussing school property sales was scheduled months in advance of the city's demolition orders, Morikis said.
The district has set a timeline of notifying potential buyers and finalizing offers by Feb. 14 with hopes to close on the properties by Feb. 17.
The school district listed 33 of its unused properties in 2018 after liens preventing their sale were lifted. The district only received offers on six buildings at that time, some believe because starting bids for the properties were set unrealistically high.
The district is not attaching a valuation to any of the 24 properties discussed Tuesday night. The school corporation is seeking to close sales on seven additional properties, Morikis said, five of those resulting from offers from the Gary Housing Authority.
The seven properties include Horace Mann, Vohr, Emerson, Spaulding, Ernie Pyle, Chase and Carver schools.
"We want to sell properties," Morikis said, adding, "The interest we've received has been tremendous."
Morikis said the district would move to auction any properties not sold.
Community members expressed concern the Tuesday night meeting lasting just over an hour did not include public comment or an open Q-and-A session. A majority of the meeting focused on updates from district administrative officers, fulfilling a longstanding request of the school corporation's nonvoting Advisory Board.
Gary Councilman Ron Brewer, who was among the dozens in attendance, said he was encouraged by the district's action to list properties, but had hoped to hear more specific details about the school corporation's bid package requirements for the property sales.
"There has to be a point where we all sit down at the table and discuss which direction they're moving in as the Gary Community School Corporation and what direction we're moving in as the city, and not have everybody assuming what the next person is doing," Brewer said.