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Prospective tenants think about converting schools

Real estate professionals are wondering what how to use 49 parochial schools scheduled to close in the Philadelphia area. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced this will be the final school year for 45 elementary and four high schools in and around Philadelphia. Each location is unique, real estate professionals said, and will require just the right use to fit the area and the architecture. There will no doubt be zoning and usage concerns for most of the properties, which can be sticky issues for developers.

Real estate experts said the shuttered schools could have a variety of uses on the commercial real estate market, or the buildings could be converted to residences. The buildings could transform into anything, including high-end condos, retirement homes, offices and more. Some of the buildings could be razed, as well, with the land used for a new building.

Some of the buildings have already drawn interest from developers. One of the interested parties is a developer who already has repurposed two closed campuses in Philadelphia into apartments.

The schools represent a mixed bag of size and age, with some of them more than 100 years old. While developers might be salivating over some of the parcels, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia isn't quite ready to start selling off its holdings, according to a spokeswoman.

That will give developers time to figure out how to repurpose the buildings and think of uses for specialized rooms in the schools, such as gyms or cafeterias. For some properties, it might take some time for just the right buyer to emerge.

The closure of the parochial schools could put just the first batch of school sites up for sale. The School District of Philadelphia said recently that it could also close school sites, beginning with nine in two years.

Source: The Inquirer, "Converting the closed schools," Diane Mastrull, Jan. 15, 2012

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