Neighbors fear school closures will bring more blight

Posted at 7:02 PM, Jun 04, 2013

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) -- On the heels of the news that Richmond Public Schools will shutter three schools, some neighbors are worried that the closures will bring more blight to the community.

Neighbors cite Whitcomb Court Elementary, which closed seven years ago, as an example. The former East End school features boarded up windows, overgrown bushes and weeds. Graffiti also covers much of the building that once touched so many young lives.

"The police sit across the street from there, so I feel safe," said Angel Ortiz, who lives across the street from what he calls the neighborhood eyesore.

Ortiz said he would like to see a store or even another school take the dilapidated structures place.

The old Armstrong High School also sits vacant about a mile away on North 31st Street after it was shut down in 2004.

Several years after the school closed, David Frazier remembers seeing flames shooting from the building when someone set fire to it.

"They actually put steel up around the windows and doors to keep people out," Frazier said. "But instead of doing that, do something with it."

As CBS 6 revisited the location on Tuesday, Richmond police were investigating after someone discovered a body behind the school.

Now that the school board has voted to close Clark Springs Elementary and two other schools Monday night, CBS 6 News asked leaders if those buildings could also wind up sitting vacant for years.

"Our hope is that if we surplus them, there's a plan for them and that they'll move quickly. So, that we can reap some of that financial benefit," said Jeffrey Bourne, chair of the RPS board.

Bourne said the board has a choice to keep the facilities for educational purposes or surplus the properties back to the city. He said then it is up to  city council to decide whether to sell the buildings for future development.

However, that has not happened for the two vacant East End schools.

"Some of these schools may not be in the locations that are attracting a lot of buyers," said Bourne. "So, I don't know whether I'm surprised or realistic in the current conditions where some of these schools are located."

But Frazier worries that if something is not done with the old high school that there will be problems.

"You're going to have people going in and out that are homeless. They're going to find somewhere to lay their heads," said Frazier. "I mean until somebody has a heart and tries to do something with some of these things around here it's not going to change."

On the other hand, not every city school is vacant or dilapidated. In fact, one school building has become the Patrick Henry Charter School. Another was renovated and turned into the Lee School Lofts.

As for the two empty schools in Richmond's East End, one school board member told CBS 6 News that the buildings are worth roughly $9 million.

Stay with CBS 6 News and for updates on this story.