School district preparing plan to sell off several closed schools

Print

Finding new uses for 12 closed Minneapolis Public School (MPS) buildings will likely take a while, cautioned Paul Bauknight of Urban Design Lab. Bauknight, an MPS consultant, recently completed the first of three interim reports on the process.

Although his report–which can be viewed on the MPS web site (www.mpls.k12.mn.us)–doesn’t include North’s five closed schools (Lincoln, Shingle Creek, Jordan Park, Franklin and Willard), it does offer a preview of what other neighborhoods are hoping to see when and if the large buildings are redeveloped.

Bauknight said he completed the report, which covers Cooper, Howe, Northrop and Morris Park schools in South Minneapolis, after attending 28 community meetings (including introductory meetings and two for each school). He said he expects to finish the second report, which will cover the North Side buildings, in about two weeks, and the Northeast report on Holland, Putnam and Tuttle by the end of March.

The reports include real estate analyses, building analyses, building and land valuations and notes from the community meetings. Bauknight said his plan is to take the general information and options, including feasibility, financial considerations and marketing needs, and develop recommendations for the school board. “The goal is to develop a strategic plan.”

The interim reports, he said, “don’t come out and make recommendations; they explain what the community is talking about.”

The next step will be “site asset meetings,” which will start in March but have not yet been scheduled. “At the community meetings, we asked for smaller groups to be our connection to the community.”

Bauknight said the groups who turned out for the community meetings tended to be a mix of people who were still angry or upset about the schools closing in the first place and people who wanted to move ahead. “It’s a tough process. Nobody likes to see a school closed. Now we have to find out what the building might be in its next life. People seemed to appreciate the process and overall, the meetings have been well attended. We’ve been open and transparent and have worked to include community members.”

The four South Minneapolis schools were all K-5 schools built in the 1920s and 1930s, with additions built later. Most who attended those community meetings said they wanted to keep the buildings standing, and hoped to retain their green space.

For Cooper, 3239 44th Ave. S., recommendations included artists’ living and work space, a resource center, single-family residential units, and senior housing.

For Howe, 3733 43rd Ave. S., recommendations included educational/school use, a community or resource center, artists’ living and work space, and senior housing.

For Northrop, 1611 46th St. E., recommendations included town houses, a resource center, single-family residential units, and senior housing.

For Morris Park, 3810 56th St. E., recommendations included an educational/school use, a resource center, single-family residential units, and senior housing.

Bauknight wrote in his report that after talking with real estate development, urban planning, finance and land use professionals, it became clear that this is more than a building reuse project: it is a “significant urban planning and economic development initiative.”

Developing a strategic plan with viable long term options, he added, means that the school district will need the cooperation and support of the City of Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, Hennepin County “and other agencies and institutions within the community.”

In some cases, the buildings might have to be rezoned to accommodate a higher density use. All are in areas zoned for residential use. Projects such as senior housing, a resource center, or an artists’ live/work space would all require a higher zoning.

And with every plan comes many questions. When people say they want to “retain green space,” for instance, does that mean keeping the existing green space as part of a new use, or possibly moving the building to create a larger park/recreation area? Who will care for the green space? Will it be “planned or unplanned, manicured or wild?” If left in a “natural vegetative state, would it be perceived as an amenity, a safety hazard, or an eyesore?”

If the option a community chooses is converting a school building to residential units, Bauknight’s report says, “Depending on the current condition of these facilities, it may cost as much or more to convert these buildings to multifamily housing than to remove the building and construct an entirely new residential complex.” And costs to convert these facilities to residential units are increasing, he added.

Some charter schools have shown interest, Bauknight noted, and an educational use would be “one of the most expedient options for moving a property into a productive use again.” However, one drawback is that many charter schools are interested in leasing, not buying, a building, and MPS has made it clear that it wants to get out of the real estate business.

He said that the school district is keeping track of people who are interested in the properties. “As we work through the recommendations, we might be able to match them up,” Bauknight said. “We’re not taking any proposals right now, even though the district has solicited letters of interest from charter schools.”

Private housing developers, private schools, churches, non-profit housing and community developers and non-profit agencies have expressed interest in some of the buildings, he added. The list includes the Minneapolis Consortium of Non-Profit Developers, Common Bond Communities, Artspace, Service Dog Training, and the Drum and Bugle Corps.

For more information, go to www.mpls.k12.mn.us, click on “Community,” and chose the “closed school” option in the left margin. Call 612-668-8668 or email answers@mpls.k12.mn.us for information on how to buy or rent a building. The district number is 612-668-0000.