School closures only add to blight in some Chicago neighborhoods

May 23, 2013

(WBEZ/Natalie Moore)
McCorkle School closed in 2010 and is still looking for a buyer.

The last thing many Chicago neighborhoods need is another abandoned building.

Now that Chicago Public Schools is officially closing 50 schools, that means 42 buildings will be shuttered in June. Many dot areas of the city that are already grappling with poverty and seeking economic development. Neighborhoods like Austin, Englewood and West Garfield Park all have a disproportionate number of boarded-up buildings, foreclosed homes and cases of predatory lending.

According to the Woodstock Institute, a Chicago-based housing policy think tank, Austin had 730 foreclosures in 2011. In 2012, foreclosures were up 28 percent in West Garfield Park and 27 percent in West Pullman.

Woodstock’s Katie Bruitrago says an abandoned school might pile on further stress.

“Having such a large building that’s a center of a community become vacant, if it’s not properly maintained, it could have some of these same negative impacts in terms of attracting crime or affecting property values or neighborhood stability,” she said.

CPS officials say they plan to engage community leaders about how to use the empty buildings. The district has created a provision that none of those structures can be turned into new schools. Officials say it’s too early to determine if the schools will be sold or donated to groups. Some ideas on the table include reusing the space for nonprofits or community centers. In the meantime, CPS says it will be responsible for maintenance and security at empty buildings.

In North Kenwood, Price School is now used for Chicago Police Department K-9 training and the education nonprofit City Year.

But CPS has a large portfolio of idle schools and vacant property. Recently, the board approved the sale of three properties, one of which was formerly Mulligan School. It sold for $4 million.

Natalie Moore is WBEZ’s South Side bureau reporter. Follow her @natalieymoore.