Emmet, Leland schools eyed for business training centers

November 19, 2015
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Two shuttered Austin schools could see new life as business training centers.

The former George Leland and Robert Emmet elementary schools are being eyed by private developers looking to acquire both buildings, according to Ald. Chris Taliaferro.

The alderman said he could not disclose yet whom those developers are. Leland, 512 S. Lavergne Ave., and Emmet, 5500 W. Madison St., were among the nearly 50 schools closed by Chicago Public Schools in 2013 due to low enrollment.

Taliaferro said the interested developers want to covert Emmet and Leland into business training centers.

Louis Armstrong and Francis Scott Key elementary schools were the other two Austin schools shuttered two years ago. Taliaferro said one of those schools has also drawn interest from a community developer looking to covert it to public use.

Reusing those buildings for some kind of community development has drawn support from some residents.

Dwayne Truss, an education activist and community organizer, said turning those schools into business centers makes sense if it’s done right.

“Business development is only going to respond to demand,” Truss said. “What businesses are you talking about? You got some people saying we need Starbucks out here, but they only got McDonald’s money. That’s why Lincoln Park and those other places get businesses, because people have the buying and earning power to sustain those businesses.”

Truss is a member of Austin Community Action Council, which recently unveiled a seven-point plan to fix local high schools, including returning Austin High School back to a single campus. Currently, three small schools are housed there.

Mildred Wiley, a member of the Austin CAC, also supports turning the closed schools into training centers.

“Nothing makes a community more distressed than to have closed structures with no life in them,” she said. “If we can bring businesses into these facilities to bring life back in them, why not?”

Wiley said that’s what her group wants to do with Douglass Academy High School; they’d like to split the campus into a school and a family center that provides, among other services, day care to families, as well as training for day care providers.

No matter what, Truss said, the Emmet and Leland buildings should not be handed over to charter school operators.

“If they’re going to convert it for industrial business use, it has to be re-zoned for that and never lease it out to another entity for a school,” Truss said. “There has to be a covenant in there that says you can’t turn around and lease it to charter schools.”

 

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