Schools wave goodbye to students, hello to business
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Although proponents agree that joint occupancy is not the answer for every school in every district, they argue that it offers what Mike Collins of the Center for Educational Facilities Planning calls "the biggest bang for the buck."Skip to next paragraph
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Parents and children, for example, get to keep their neighborhood school. Taxpayers get a more-efficient system. And school administrators get a boost in revenues that many districts badly need in the wake of property tax-slashing measures like California's Proposition 13.
Carefully choosing compatible outside businesses to share facilities with schools, proponents say, can result in benefits for both.
"It's an all-win proposition. Everybody wins," says Belmont's Dr. Turner, who spent a year explaining joint use to the community before the district began renting out space.
"Parents could see the trade-off," he says. "They realized that if they didn't accept something else in the schools, theirm school might be the one that could close."
There are complications, however. Most states have laws prohibiting the use of schools for anything other than instruction of children -- although in recent years, some states, including New Jersey, California, and Connecticut, have changed their laws to allow more flexible use of surplus school space. (In California, new joint-use deals have been temporarily put on hold while a clarification of the revised law is being sought from the attorney general).
What is more, joint occupancy policies offer long-term, not short-term payoffs. School districts must often invest money in building renovation to adapt classrooms for use by tenants. In addition, some districts simply don't have the financial know-how to run a joint-use program: Wisonsin's Madison Metropolitan School District, for example, lost $90,000 on its leasing deals last year. District officials, however, didn't abandon the program -- they decided to hire a property management firm to handle it instead.
School officials like Belmont's Turner and Montgomery County's Posilkin say they Regularly receive requests for information from school districts around the country. At the nonprofit Center for Educational Facilities Planning in Columbus, Ohio, 15 to 20 requests a week are received for information or assistance in planning for the use and reuse of school buildings -- a number that is up 60 percent in the three years since the center opened, says Mike Collins.
Still, because declining enrollment remains a highly emotional issue, joint-use policies are not likely to be adopted overnight, school planners say. The concept of joint occupancy introduces a whole new dimension to the role of a neighborhood school, they say, and that may take some getting used to on the part of the surrounding community.
"IT's not as common as it could be, "says Ellen Bussard, project director of Educational Facilities Laboratories. "Only as it becomes common."