When Northwest Public Schools made the decision to close Chapman School, it was a gut punch to the community. Whenever a school closes, fears arise about businesses closing and people moving away.
The building was vacated in May after the Northwest Board of Education voted in February to close the school at the end of the 2019-20 school year. This wasn’t a big surprise to the community as the school board had been debating the status of the school for years.
The reasons for closing Chapman centered around its roughly $20,000-per-student cost and the fact the school didn’t show substantial growth in enrollment in recent years. The Northwest board had voted in December 2016 to close Chapman School, but later voted to keep the school open as a K-5 facility.
Before last February’s school board vote to close the school, parents gave emotional testimony about the importance of keeping the school open. But the school ultimately was closed.
The Chapman Village Board decided last week that it can be proactive in assuming ownership of the school building.
The vote was unanimous to accept Northwest’s offer to sell the building to the village for $1. The Northwest School Board still needs to vote to finalize the sale, but the district made it clear in closing the school that it doesn’t want to have the expense of maintaining the building.
The overriding question for the village board is what it will do with the building. It’s in good condition, has an elevator and a wheelchair accessible ramp and a large gym. It could be used for a community center or fitness center and there’s the possibility of some of the building being renovated into apartments for an income stream.
But that will take money and expertise. Board Chairman Chris Killin raised concerns last summer that it could cost the village $100,000 a year simply for building upkeep. Renovation would increase the village board’s financial commitment greatly.
It’s good that the idea of forming a committee to look into possible uses for the building and how it could be renovated was discussed during the board meeting. The board members obviously think saving the building and giving it a new use are important. And so do we. But this is not something that can be completed quickly.
It’s a major undertaking that needs the expertise of a developer and possibly grant funding.
Killin said the board will have more discussion at its next meeting Nov. 3 to determine the steps the village board needs to take in regard to the school building.
No doubt Chapman residents have the greatest desire to keep the building from becoming an eyesore in the community but it will take special know-how and expertise to raise funds and transform the facility for the long haul.
We hope that Chapman finds suitable partners — there are companies that specialize in this type of development — to make this project a reality. And when it does happen The Grand Island Independent will be there to write stories and take photos and videos because communities usually only get one shot to save their school building.
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