Public school buildings were once the crowning feature of many neighborhoods throughout St. Louis. However, dozens of these educational facilities are now vacant and unused. Accordingly, the city school district has been selling these empty buildings to developers for the past decade, hoping that they may find new, beneficial life as apartment buildings, community centers and more.
According to the St. Louis Public School (SLPS) system, the district sold 40 pieces of property, including school buildings, from 2003 to 2012. These sales totaled $12.6 million in profits, which were returned to the district’s operating funds.
Representatives from the school system say their initial goal is to make the buildings economically viable and beneficial to their communities. As the area’s real estate market has lagged in recent years, this goal has proved difficult. However, now that the economy is improving, the empty schools are receiving more interest from potential property owners and property investment companies.
“An abandoned school does make a great apartment building conversion,” says Joe Ord, President, Amoso Properties. “The ultimate success of the redevelopment ultimately lies in what is going on in the community surrounding the building.”
Some of the vacant school buildings are already showing signs of new life: the Wyman School, located off Theresa Avenue in the south of the city, will reopen this fall as a magnet high school. Two more schools are under contract: the Windsor School on Robert Avenue will become an industrial building, while the Lafayette School in Soulard will be transformed into market-rate apartments.
Certain schools, however, represent bigger challenges than others: a northern neighborhood known as “the Ville,” for example, has five vacant schools, many of which need significant repairs and maintenance. Overgrown trees crowd the grounds, leaky roofs and broken windows have caused serious water damage, and trespassers have stolen pipes and other features. The SLPS has designated funds from the district’s overall budget to conduct repairs and maintenance on these buildings, but residents say these responsibilities are often deferred. This only contributes to problems in areas like the Ville, a historic area now characterized by hundreds of empty buildings and lots. However, residents are hopeful that developers will soon turn their attention to their available properties, especially if the district reduces the prices of the vacant schools.
Currently, the district determines prices based on a building’s condition and location. Usually, this results in prices that range anywhere between $2 and $15 per square foot. Cheaper schools are often listed near $110,000, while more expensive buildings are priced at $700,000 or more.