How did Dayton schools get to this point on underused buildings?

Dayton Public Schools will rely on a task force for advice on whether to close multiple relatively new schools next fall, and the fate of the district’s headquarters building is in question, too.

So how did the school district get to this point?

Declining enrollment

The core issue is that there are fewer and fewer students attending Dayton Public Schools, and that’s not a new issue.

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According to Dayton Daily News archives, near the city’s population peak, the school district had just over 55,000 students in 1970. That number fell to 29,500 in 1985, as busing, racial strife and suburban migration drained students from the district.

DPS approved a plan to build 25 new schools in 2002, based on enrollment of 20,000 at the time, but by 2010, as the last of those schools were about to open, enrollment had fallen to just over 13,000, with charter schools and public school vouchers having a major effect.

Today, enrollment has dipped close to 12,500, according to DPS officials.

Those new schools

After voters approved a 7.97-mill bond issue in 2002, DPS built almost all new schools, with funding help from the state. From Kiser in summer of 2006 to Wright Brothers in January 2012, the district opened 26 new school buildings (in the case of No. 26, Stivers, it was a renovation and addition).

FIRST STORY: Dayton may close three or more schools

The only DPS schools currently in use that pre-date 2006 are Valerie Elementary and the Gorman/Jackson Center site. Back in 2002, the average age of Dayton schools was 67 years.

The $245 million bond issue that Dayton voters approved in 2002 was a 28-year tax, meaning residents could be paying it for another 13 years, whether all the schools are open or not.

Ludlow headquarters

DPS Associate Superintendent Shelia Burton last month said the district’s six-story headquarters complex at 115 S. Ludlow St. is also underused, housing 150 central office employees. A recent walk through the fourth floor revealed a large, abandoned cubicle area, with a May 2013 edition of Education Week at the top of the magazine rack.

The school district bought that two-building complex from Reynolds & Reynolds in May 2003 for $15.5 million, saying it would consolidate administrative offices there, resulting in cost savings. At the time, city officials were upset by the move, as they wanted to draw another corporate user to the Reynolds site.

MORE: Dayton mulls fate of schools, HQ building

By June 2008, then-DPS Superintendent Percy Mack was already suggesting the district should lease out one of the two connected Ludlow buildings, saying the district could fit its administrative staff in the other.

Today, the Montgomery County Auditor values the site at $5.75 million.

Other buildings

Dayton Public Schools demolished most of the old schools left empty by last decade’s building boom, but a few are still standing and owned by the district.

DPS closed the 1880s-era Longfellow Academy at 245 Salem Ave. this fall after failing to address years-long maintenance issues. The former Gardendale school at North Gettysburg and McGee was closed in summer 2014 and remains standing next to the district’s transportation hub. The Grant school in East Dayton has been closed for more than a decade, but remains standing on Arcadia Boulevard.

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Once a school has been closed for two years, the district has to offer to sell it to local charter schools at market value, but there are few takers for old schools often needing repairs.

DPS also owns two attractive multi-story buildings at 124 and 128 S. Ludlow St., across from its headquarters. DPS bought those buildings in May 2005, and they are now valued at $1.57 million by the county auditor.

Future prospects

Acting superintendent Elizabeth Lolli said it’s too early to suggest possible reuses for any Dayton school buildings that are closed or sold. City Commissioner Jeff Mims suggested possibilities in the medical industry.

The potential reuse of the buildings would depend, like all things real estate-related, on location. Just over a year ago, DPS sold the empty former Patterson Co-op High School land for $1 million. A CareSource office building is under construction there today. But that site is on the comparatively thriving northeast side of downtown.

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If multimillion-dollar plans to revive Dayton’s Arcade take off, DPS’ Ludlow Street properties could be more attractive. But a recent attempt to repurpose the former Dayton Daily News building across the street from DPS failed.

In past years, old schools have been turned into apartments (Hawthorn school in Dayton), a library (Westwood School in Dayton), and churches or community centers (Meadowlawn and Rosewood in Kettering).

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