Indianapolis Public Schools offered a comprehensive analysis Tuesday, showing strong demand for housing, retail, and office development on the 16-acre site of the closed Broad Ripple High School. But before the district can sell the property on the open market — instead of offering it up to a charter school — it needs the support of state lawmakers.
The future of the Broad Ripple campus has been in limbo for more than a year. That’s when the Indianapolis Public Schools board voted to close that high school and two others because of low district enrollment. The building, which is situated in a thriving and rapidly developing area, is one of the district’s most valuable assets and leaders see it as a potential source of revenue for the cash-strapped school system.
At the time it closed the schools, Indianapolis Public Schools estimated the value of Broad Ripple at $6 million to $8 million, but a district official said that it is based on old analysis and it could fetch more.
The district’s options for selling the property, however, are limited by a state law that requires school districts to make vacant buildings available to charter schools for $1. In order to sell the building to a private buyer, the district would need legislators to amend that law.
“Part what we’re doing this evening is trying to demonstrate that there is a tremendous market for this property,” said Joe Gramelspacher, the district’s director of special projects. “But we are constrained, and this community is constrained by existing law.”
A bill making its way through the state legislature would change the $1 law — potentially giving the district an easier route to selling the property, but one in which charter schools would still be able to use the building.
In buildings exceeding 250,000 square feet, such as Broad Ripple, the bill would require charter schools that want to lease or purchase the property to show they expect to occupy at least half the building capacity and are financially able to support its operations. In the case that a large school is sold, a charter school would be able to lease space there at half the market rate. The law would also shorten the period buildings must be available to charter schools before they are put on the market.
Indianapolis Public Schools leaders have been in a protracted battle over the future of Broad Ripple since the school shuttered last year. Purdue Polytechnic High School, a charter school backed by former-governor Mitch Daniels, informally expressed interest in leasing the property in partnership with another charter network. When the district did not engage with the schools, instead pursuing a months-long public process to find another use for the property, it inspired frustration among some state lawmakers.
For a time, it appeared that Purdue leaders were no longer interested in the property. But the charter announced recently they will open a campus in a temporary location at the Broad Ripple neighborhood next school year, and many nearby residents are pushing for the school to stay there permanently. Some neighbors have vocally opposed using the property for housing and other commercial development, instead favoring an educational or cultural use.
Colleen Fanning, a city council member and the executive director of Broad Ripple Village Association, said that the site could be more than merely a private mixed-use development. She suggested it could house a school, a farmers market, and serve other communal purposes.
“I just want the process to get started, and I want the community’s input to be taken into account so we can get the process of rezoning and redevelopment started,” Fanning said. “It’s frustrating to me to see this amazing opportunity before us and to not be able to move with that in a timely manner.”
Last year, Indianapolis Public Schools released a request for proposals from nonprofits interested in leasing some or all of the property, including charter schools. It received four proposals but none of them were viable, according to Gramelspacher.
At the same time the district is lobbying lawmakers to change the rules governing the sale of school buildings generally, it is also soliciting feedback from the community about the future use of this building in particular. At the meeting Tuesday, it sought input from residents on the use of the site, and it has posted a survey on its website.
Melissa Wooton, a neighbor whose daughter attends fourth grade in the district, said that while she wasn’t won over by options presented Tuesday, she found the conversation to be constructive.
“I would like to see some more emphasis on cultural possibilities, see if there are some ways that we can also put some of the educational wishes of the community in there,” she said.
Carol Gartland, who has lived in the community for 37 years, said she favored housing and other commercial development in the property, noting: “I’d like to see it redeveloped into something that’s going to generate tax revenue so that the surrounding taxes don’t go up.”