GARY | Three of 11 vacant Gary school buildings have been sold and another building is under negotiation.

The School Board approved the sale of the former Tolleston Middle School for $100 to The Boys & Girls Club of Northwest Indiana; Banneker Elementary School for $50,000 to the National Civil Rights Museum and Hall of Fame; and Beckman Middle School for $100,000 to Lew Management of Gary. Negotiations are under way to sell the former Norton Elementary School.

The Gary School Board hired the Gary-based firm Robert Lewis & Associates to handle the bidding and sale of the buildings. Attorney Tracy Coleman, who has worked with the Gary board regarding the sale of the buildings for more than a year, said the board has approved the sale. She said several other school buildings remain for sale.

As required by the state, the list of empty school buildings was turned over to the state.

House Enrolled Act 1002, effective July 1, requires a school corporation to make available for $1 any school building that is not in use, for lease or sale to a charter school for classroom instruction.

Gary Community School Corp. was one of only two Northwest Indiana school corporations that reported empty buildings. The other corporation was Michigan City, which had two vacant buildings. The School City of East Chicago reopened the former Field Elementary School this fall for use. It had been closed four years.

The new owners of Gary school buildings have big plans.

Lincoln Ellis, the president and CEO of the John Will Anderson Boys & Girls Club of Northwest Indiana, said administrators intend to relocate their administrative offices and club to the location. He said they also hope to create a community center and house other services that complement its mission such as a health clinic, child care center and library. He estimated the renovation cost at $6 million to $6.7 million. He said the goal is to be in the building by the fall 2012 or early 2013.

Larry E. Webb, owner of Lew Management Co. Inc. in Gary, who co-owns the transportation company with his wife, Josephine, said he intends to move his operation over to the former Beckman Middle School by late September. Webb said he operates a charter bus company, school bus and limousine company. Webb said he intends to take some of the classrooms and convert them into small apartments where his drivers, many of whom are not married, can live.

Former Gary Mayor Richard Hatcher could not be reached to talk about plans for Banneker to be converted into the National Civil Rights Museum and Hall of Fame, which first was proposed nearly 30 years ago when Hatcher was mayor.

Attorney Coleman said they began negotiations several months ago with officials at KIPP Lead College Preparatory Academy, a Gary charter school. Coleman said negotiations broke off when KIPP removed its affiliation from the charter school. The new management company is American Quality Schools of Chicago. Although that building is valued at just under $500,000, Coleman said the price under discussion has been $300,000.

Mike Bakalis, AQS president, which runs Lead College Preparatory Academy, said his company does not buy buildings. He said he believed the board for Lead College Preparatory Academy was interested in pursuing talks to purchase a Gary school building. He said he was not part of those discussions. Officials at Lead College Preparatory Academy could not be reached for comment.


Southlake County Reporter

Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.