Editor's Focus
Editor's Focus: Old Is New

Editor's Focus: Old Is New

Even as education construction continues to flourish across the nation, some schools and universities have had to close buildings or are planning to shutter underused facilities.

There are many reasons why school buildings are closed—population and demographic changes, dilapidated conditions of the original facilities, budgetary reasons, etc.  The closing of a school building is not something that comes easily or without careful research and deliberation, as the action can have a significant detrimental impact on a community. 

But many of these shuttered buildings are finding new life, and are once again invigorating communities that suffered the initial loss of a beloved school.

Education facilities that have closed due to various reasons have been repurposed into office buildings, residential units, even other schools. Late last month, the Bethlehem Area School District, PA, approved the sale of a vacant building that a developer plans on turning into apartments. The district recently sold another of its buildings that the purchaser plans on turning into high-end condominiums.

While many education institutions over the years have closed or sold school buildings, others are acquiring shuttered non-school facilities in the community and transforming them into vibrant education environments. Once-closed shopping centers, warehouses, banks, churches and office complexes are now housing classrooms, offices and residence halls of school districts and colleges in need of space.

Granted, most school districts and higher-education institutions address their space and programmatic needs through more typical construction of new facilities, expansion of existing buildings, and modernization and retrofit. But space, time and extenuating constraints often prompt administrators to look at alternative options—which is where the acquisition and adaptive reuse of existing facilities can be the solution.

Breathing new life into old, vacant facilities has numerous benefits. For the school district or college comes the opportunity to acquire much-needed space in a location that best serves its enrollment, budgetary and programmatic goals. For the community where the once-shuttered building resides, a new tenant materializes that will help reinvigorate the neighborhood. For the building, it is a chance to be reborn and transformed to serve another generation or two of occupants.

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