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Converted Schools

What happens to the buildings that are left behind after hundreds of schools are shut down in just over a decade?

In West Virginia, education officials found out recently that there is a wide a range of uses for the old facilities.

Declining enrollments and the consolidation of small school districts have been major factors in the closings of 424 West Virginia schools since 1989, according to a report given to the state board of education earlier this month.

Already, 188 of those buildings have been sold and converted into apartments, churches, and other uses. One is even being used as a dental laboratory, says the report, which was based on a survey of county school superintendents.

In about 150 cases, the school districts or communities have converted the buildings to other types of schools, offices, maintenance facilities, or community centers.

Five of the closed schools have been torn down.

"I was surprised at how many of them were used as other things," said Jack C. McClanahan, the assistant state superintendent for administrative services. "A lot of these schools are being well utilized."

But at least three dozen former school buildings are sitting vacant or are being used merely for storage by their local school districts. Some of those buildings are worth less than $10,000, according to assessments.

West Virginia is now trying to figure out what to do with a handful of those buildings that have been labeled as posing problems—including 13 that have been vandalized. In some communities, residents have complained that the old buildings are becoming eyesores.

According to a detailed list of the schools, some of the closures of the most problematic sites date back to 1993. And even though the Panther Elementary School in McDowell County was closed this past June, local residents say it has been vandalized. It is scheduled for demolition.

Mr. McClanahan said the state requires each community to tell the state its plans for a facility when a school is shut down. But some communities that had hoped to sell them found that there were no prospective buyers.

Mr. McClanahan said he would need an order from the state board or the legislature for the state to intervene.

A state board member who has since retired commissioned the survey last year.

—Joetta L. Sack

Vol. 23, Issue 13, Page 13

Published in Print: November 26, 2003, as State Journal

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