In school board district 3, especially in the Piedmont Heights area, the Central High School campus is a very tender topic. The majority of the district’s citizens did not want the campus closed, and now it has been sitting empty for over eight years. The building is still only 48 years old. Not long before the campus was closed, our school district invested $1.8 million in athletic facilities, including eight new tennis courts and a new running track.
The following quote is taken from a district newsletter, promoting the investment: “On Central’s athletic fields, new bleachers will provide safe and accessible seating for 500 people, and a new track, multiple fields, eight tennis courts, an improved and fenced baseball field, and new score boards, restrooms, storage, and expanded parking will be constructed to provide additional opportunities for baseball, soccer, football, tennis, track and field, physical education and community recreation activities.”
From time to time I walk up to the central campus, to see for myself how the grounds and buildings are holding up, after sitting empty for so many years. It is always evocatively distressing walking around abandoned buildings with such a beautiful view. Rust is taking a toll on metal fascia and on the moldings of some of the windows of the high school, and there is deterioration in one corner of the building. Vandals are getting inside. While knocking on doors during this campaign, I spoke at length with a police officer who told me law enforcement is wasting considerable resources dealing with break-ins on the site.
The last time I was on the campus, I circled the school from both directions and carefully tabulated with a pen and notepad how many window panes were broken out and replaced with particle board. I counted 19. Only the soccer/football field was still being mowed and maintained. The softball field, hardball field and playground were all waist high in weeds. More weeds were growing up through cracks in the now crumbling tennis courts.
This has been very poor planning. Our school district is now paying more than $14,000 a year to lease space in the old Washington school to fill the educational void created in the center of the city, a harbinger of coming problems. My fear is that the district will sell the Central campus for one penny on the dollar, net profit. Then, fifteen years or so down the road, the school board will want taxpayers to purchase prime property and start rebuilding central schools.
The time has come to take another look at where we’ve been going for the past dozen years. The Red Plan has only worsened our city’s east-west divide. We should reevaluate where the school board of school district ISD 709 has been leading us, before we dump the Central campus–77 acres and 3 multi-million dollar buildings–for virtually no profit at all, only to surely come to regret, someday in the near future, that we did it.