Portland Schools, like many urban districts, faces inquires about empty schools

ANGELA PASCOPELLA's picture
Monday, November 18, 2013

When Portland Public Schools leaders agreed to sell Washington High School last month, the deal represented an exception rather than the rule in the way Oregon’s largest district deals with shuttered campuses.

The district has closed 30 schools since 1970. Taxpayers still own about half those properties – and spend $2.3 million a year to maintain them.

Urban systems across the country are grappling with the question of how to handle vacant buildings; many big city districts face a glut of empty campuses, a result of shifting demographics and competition from charter schools.

Real estate experts say there’s no one correct policy: each property must be analyzed as part of a long-term plan that serves students first.

Experts also say school districts should be more attentive to the market to determine whether they’re getting the best deals. They point out specific steps Portland has not yet taken to analyze the potential value of its closed campuses, such as tracking the price private buyers might pay.

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