The School District of Philadelphia posted information about more than two dozen school buildings on its website Thursday in an effort to sell the properties and repay the city for a one-time, $50 million emergency loan. A streamlined process for selling the buildings addresses many of the issues raised by City Controller Alan Butkovitz, who questioned revenue projections and estimated savings from the sale of school properties.
In reviewing the district’s school closure plan, Butkovitz stated projections for $28 million in cash from property sales plus an additional $28 million in yearly savings on operating costs are unrealistic because it depends on selling the entire portfolio quickly. He stated those scenarios are “highly unlikely … even under the best conditions in the real estate market.”
“Our analysis of the market suggests that many of these properties will remain vacant for years to come,” Butkovitz wrote in a preliminary report released last year.
The city controller estimated $86 million in lost property values as a result of the district’s school closure plan. Planning experts estimate blight could reduce the value of a home within one block of a vacant school by 5 percent.
City officials and school leaders are working together to speed up the sale of school buildings. The school district has agreed to use the proceeds to pay back a $50 million emergency loan to the city. The loan went toward reinstating essential staff before public schools opened in September.
Potential buyers will be given until the end of the year to express formal interest and their reason for bidding on a specific property, said Alan Greenberger, deputy mayor for economic development. All development proposals will be reviewed and analyzed with careful consideration of proposed use.
Butkovitz believes developers will acquire only a few shuttered schools at or near assessed market value for development as either high-end residential or mixed use. He anticipated most properties being bought by nonprofits or educational management organizations at “very low prices.”
However, in most cases, the report states it is unlikely that sites would be purchased for conversion to condominiums or market-rate apartments.
The report mentioned school sites near Temple University, Drexel University and University of Pennsylvania as properties with the best prospects: Gillespie Middle School, 1801 W. Pike St.; Gen. George G. Meade School, 1600 N. 18th St.; Duckrey Tanner School, 1501 W. Diamond St.; University City High School, 3601 Filbert St.; and Paul Robeson High School, 4152 Ludlow St.
In contrast, the report cited an asking price of $750,000 for Alcorn School Annex, 1325 S. 33rd St., as too steep. Butkovitz also believes the district’s request for a minimum bid on the Ada H. Lewis Middle School is a high-ball figure, considering its potential for market-rate development.
“In the final analysis, however, at least half of the buildings on the proposed closure list are located in declining neighborhoods with few nearby “anchor” institutions to give developers a reason to expect reasonable return on investment,” according to the report.
The report also highlighted costs borne by the district and the city in preventing vacant buildings from becoming public safety or fire hazard. For example, the report stated the school district in Washington, D.C., spends $40,000 each year on costs associated with patrolling vacant school buildings, which can attract unwanted elements, including illegal drug activity, crime and fuel blazes that can burn out of control, jeopardizing the surrounding neighborhood.
The school district also realized savings by cutting back on custodial and maintenance workers.
The annual savings factors in reduced spending for trash removal, school safety, nursing services, maintenance, utilities, cleaning services and engineering costs. Cleaning, utilities and maintenance accounted for more than half that amount, according to the report.