ONLY ON KOLD: Empty schools are targets for vandalism - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

ONLY ON KOLD: Empty schools are targets for vandalism

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Recent school closures mean large, empty school buildings left behind in many neighborhoods. 

Tucson Unified School District officials have been spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to maintain and secure the closed buildings, as they continue to look for ways to bring them back to life. 

The district is constantly looking for financially sound tenants to lease out the buildings.  Their first priority is to find tenants who can serve students in the district.

While the district saved millions of dollars by closing many schools, many residents feel at what cost.  Residents have complained about many of the old school sites turning into dumping grounds for trash, and a breeding ground for vandals.

Bryant Nodine, the Planning Services Manager for the district admitted vandalism at old schools was a problem. 

"That's why with the most recent closures we secured those buildings up very quickly, so we've had a little bit of graffiti and a little bit of vandalism but not as much," said Nodine.

The school district's safety office continues to field calls from residents about problems at old school sites.  Some residents say the boarded up windows, and locked gates are driving their property values down.

Centers of learning that once bustled with life and activity are now eerily quiet, empty, some of them tagged and trashed on occasion.

Nodine said getting tenants into old school buildings was a priority for his office.

Of the 20 closed schools at TUSD, officials said seven were currently leased out to tenants.

Here is a list of the old schools and the new tenants provided to us by the district:

Pima Community College- Roberts

International School of Tucson-Jefferson Park

Sky Islands School-Rogers

Pascua Yaqui Tribe-Richey

World Care-Keen

Higher Ground Resource Center-Wakefield

Lapan Memorial Sunshine Foundation-Wakefield

Intermountain Center for Human Development for the Intermountain Academy-Howenstine.

Nodine said they were more selective when it came to Charter Schools who want to lease out the building.  They made exceptions if the Charter School provided an education that was not typical at TUSD.  For example: Environmental education was a big focus at the Sky Islands School at the old Rogers school site.

The old Duffy Elementary school was converted into a Family and Community Outreach Center and a clothing bank for families in need.

Director Dani Tarry said moving into the empty building made a big difference for that community.

"The school was in such disrepair, it was very sad.  Every single window was broken.  All of them had to be replaced.  There was debris.  The ceiling tiles had been pulled down.  Clearly people had been hanging out and living there," said Tarry.

Leases for the various tenants varied from $1 a year to a $100,000 for some. 

Nodine said leasing out the buildings was a win-win situation.  For the district it meant somebody in the building.  It meant tens of thousands of dollars saved by not having to secure the facility.

"We save money in not having to maintain the buildings.  All of our leases are set up to where the tenant is responsible for all maintenance," said Nodine.

Maintenance was a big issue at many of the old schools sites.

After spending tens of thousands of dollars in water bills, and living through seven water main breaks, the relief agency World Care had decided it was time to move out of the old Keen Elementary school building.

Founder and CEO Lisa Hopper said she did not want her donor dollars to go toward maintaining an old building.

"The galvanized pipes under the building, they're not just broken, not just cracked, they're disintegrating. Some of them are paper thin," said Hopper.

World Care recently announced they were moving out of the building by the end of the month.

Nodine said they hoped to eventually sell the old Keen school site.

In order to sell a school until the public votes to give that approval.  Nodine said they have voter approval for several school sites, and are in the process of getting appraisals and in negotiations with potential buyers for some school sites at this time.

The Higher Ground Resource Center recently moved into the old Wakefield school building.

"This space is being leased for a dollar a year," said Executive Director Jansen Azarias.

They served as an after school program for TUSD students from grades K-12, and provided everything from tutoring, leadership skills, martial arts, tackle football, dance, music, and art programs for students.

While they were saving tens of thousands of dollars in rent, staff worried about the cost of maintenance in a 70-year old school building.

"For example the HVAC system is very old.  It has a very short life expectancy.  That is a $120,000 in operational costs we are going to incur in the next two years," said Azarias.

They hoped to do some fundraising drives to help pay for the maintenance, in the near future.

School officials say as they looked at which buildings to lease out and which to sell, holding on to some closed schools was also a priority.

"We need to keep them on our rolls in case we need them in the future," said Nodine.

Residents who have concerns about dumping or trash on closed school sites are told to call the districts Department of School Safety at  (520) 584-7676 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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