Reality Check: What will happen to empty school buildings in Decatur?

    Oak Grove Elementary School. (WICS)

    A $55-$60 million strategic plan will soon close or consolidate several schools within the Decatur Public School District.

    Dr. Fred Bouchard, Assistant Superintendent for Decatur Public Schools, took us inside the Durfee Elementary School. The decades-old building has exposed piping, closed-off entrance ways and narrow hallways that make it tough for wheel chair accessibility.

    "We recognize that the learning environments have a lot to do with student achievement," Dr. Bouchard said.

    Bouchard adds there's a strong chance Durfee Elementary will be demolished.

    "I like to keep things pretty standard," said Decatur parent Amber Carr. "Being taken away from a school, as they come into a new one, I just want to make sure they are prepared as possible."

    The most expensive aspect of the project is a $31 million Johns Hill Magnet School to be built on the same grounds of the century old building that sits there now. It will be a school designed for the Performing Arts and Graphic Design.

    Another large aspect of the project is $16 million in additions to Parsons, Franklin, South Shores, and Muffley Elementary Schools.

    $6 million will be funneled to combine the two Montessori Magnet Schools into the old Jefferson Middle School building.

    "Through the end of this, we’re gonna have 16 schools, including our Pre-K," Dr. Bouchard said.

    The district currently has 22 schools currently, with six schools slated to be re-purposed or close.

    Five of them will become vacant, including Durfee, Oak Grove, Stevenson, Baum, and Garfield schools.

    The district says it's still determining how to handle the amount of empty buildings soon to be anticipated.

    "We've already been approached by at least two entities that have said they have been interested in a particular school," Dr. Bouchard said.

    Dr. Bouchard adds that the school board will ultimately decide whether to sell, demolish or re-purpose those vacant schools in the future.

    Decatur parent Marissa Cunningham says she's excited for the change. Her daughter will be moved when Jefferson Middle School combines with Stephen Decatur Middle School in August.

    "I was surprised that they were going to mix them together because that is a lot of kids," said Chandler Dawson, Cunningham's 7th grade daughter. "I'm excited for choir classes."

    Dr. Bouchard says change needs to happen for the district to stay afloat and to stay competitive.

    "We feel like we are just a sliver away in some areas, but we feel like those slivers will allow us to snowball," Dr. Bouchard said.

    The district says most jobs will follow the students as more schools combine to become bigger.

    For information about the plan, CLICK HERE.

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