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CPS to list 40 vacant schools, mostly from 2013 mass closings

Parents bring students to Trumbull Elementary School for the last time ever on Monday, June 24, 2013. | Peter Holderness/For the Sun-Times

Hoping to earn some much-needed cash and sweep away the troubles of vacant property, Chicago Public Schools officials are putting 40 empty school buildings up for sale, still with a caveat that they cannot be used for charter schools.

After attempting to sell off the 50-plus buildings from the mass 2013 school closings with help from aldermen — and succeeding in just nine cases for a total of $25 million — CPS is putting 30 schools, mostly on the South and West sides, on the market.

Bids are due by March 13. CPS says it will negotiate with the top two bidders and give local alderman a say before making a final decision.

The district also is trying to unload an additional 10 sites, the bulk of which were vacant before the May 2013 vote to shutter a record 50 neighborhood schools.

“This step will accelerate the reuse and revitalization of former school sites and help spur new value from properties throughout the city,” CPS spokesman Michael Passman said in a prepared statement.

Critics of the closings had warned before the Board voted to proceed with them that so many buildings in low-income neighborhoods would sit and become eyesores or dangers to neighbors.

Trumbull, in well-heeled Andersonville, fetched $5.25 million, the highest price to date, but Marconi, in West Garfield Park, brought in just $100,000. Buildings on the Near North Side sold quickly for between $3 million and $5 million each.

CPS doesn’t expect to net anywhere close to the money it needs to close a $215 million budget gap — but in addition to the proceeds of the sales, the cash-strapped district, which could be staring down another round of midyear layoffs, also will save the costs of maintaining and securing the empty properties. In 2014, CPS spent more than $2 million annually on them, but Passman could not immediately say what current costs total.

The bulk of the new listings are in neighborhoods that have already lost so many residents that their low enrollments landed them on the closing list, which aimed to consolidate children in what CPS defined as “under utilized” facilities. And in keeping with a promise made at the time the schools were named for closure, CPS is maintaining a restriction against any K-12 schools that don’t charge tuition, specifically publicly funded but privately managed charter schools.

Passman said those usage restrictions would continue until the Board of Education lifted them, making it more difficult to enact the kind of sale that allowed the Rowe Elementary Charter School to move into the closed Peabody Elementary building in 2015.

Some who fought the closures were also concerned that CPS hadn’t prohibited all privately managed schools in all the buildings — for example, non-profit or for-profit contract schools that serve at-risk youth.

Two schools — Parkman, 245. W 51st St., and Songhai, 11725 S. Perry — come with minimum bids of more than $350,000 as well as two telecommunications licenses.

Nine more buildings — Attucks, Calhoun, Dett, Paderewski, Parkman’s main building and annex,  Songhai, Laura Ward and West Pullman — come with additional conditions, such as preserving their gyms and auditoriums as community service spaces and keeping playgrounds open for neighborhood children — or banning the sale or consumption of liquor.

The former Courtenay Elementary building at 1726 W. Berteau — around the corner from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s tony abode — still hasn’t sold since 2013.

Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) said that was by design. He had numerous requests about the school he thought should never have been closed in the first place, but he wanted to hold onto the building to see what the neighborhood’s enrollment would do.

“It felt important to look at situation in the ward,” he said.

Added to the list is a building at 1310 S. Ashland that used to house Montefiore, a special education school. Its few remaining students were steered elsewhere in 2015 and then officially closed by a Board of Education vote the following school year. Montefiore was a designated “welcoming school” CPS recommended for students from two other special ed schools among the 50 shuttered in 2013.