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School Districts, Developers Find Uses for Old Buildings

Sun October 21, 2007 - Midwest Edition
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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) School districts embarking on new construction projects are auctioning off old school buildings to developers who are turning them into offices, community centers and even private homes.

It’s a relief to school officials eager to dump outdated buildings but still wanting to see the properties put to good use.

The former Hazelwood Elementary School in Newark, 30 mi. east of Columbus, is now the Look Up Center, a community center owned in part by Spring Hill Baptist Church.

Another central Ohio district demolished an old elementary school and turned it into green space. The three-acre site (1.2 ha) of the former Ruth Boardman Elementary in Delaware now hosts outdoor sports, field days and is occasionally used by Ohio Wesleyan University for summer band camp.

During the past 10 years, the Ohio School Facilities Commission has helped build or renovate 440 school buildings across the state at a cost of almost $5 billion, spokesman Rick Savors said. The commission subsidizes such projects based on the wealth of the district.

Savors said the commission intends to renovate or replace approximately 2,500 buildings by 2017.

Newark City Schools are in the middle of a seven-year, $139 million upgrade that eventually will renovate or replace every school building in the district. The school board has approved the sale of three buildings so far. The next one to go is Central Intermediate School, a downtown building scheduled for auction July 17.

Newark Assistant Superintendent Dan Montgomery said every building went through an assessment to determine which ones to save. If the cost of renovation was at least 80 percent of a building’s current value, it would not be worth fixing, he said.

“We just hope they are put to good use in the community,” Montgomery said. “We don’t want them to be an eyesore.”

Columbus Public Schools auctioned nearly 70 properties between 1979 and 1999, records show.

The district still has 31 buildings that aren’t permanent school sites and is holding on to some empty ones in case student enrollment starts to grow and extra space is needed.

Sometimes selling or leasing costly old buildings makes sense, Columbus public schools spokesman Michael Straughter said.

The district is renting a former middle school to the city of Columbus, which is using it as a recreation center. The 18-month lease is expected to save the district $60,000 a year in utility and maintenance costs, he said.

In Zanesville, David Mitzel bought the former Pioneer Elementary School last year for $27,500. The schoolhouse, built in 1915, sits on a hilltop and has great views of the city.

“It’s going to be my home,” Mitzel said. He and his wife, Katherine, also plan to convert some of the classrooms into large guest suites.

The idea is to invite former Zanesville residents who have gone on to successful careers to come back and stay with them for a week or two at no cost. The guests would meet with students and civic leaders to discuss ways to improve the city.

“This project is all personal,” Mitzel said. “We’re saving a great old building and giving back to the community.”

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