CONTROLLER Alan Butkovitz released a scary report yesterday detailing dangerous conditions at vacant school district buildings. A review of eight facilities revealed three schools in poor structural condition, and three others that have become crime havens since being closed.
A vacant school can be a huge problem for a neighborhood, both as an eyesore and as a deep, dark hideout for criminal behavior. There's no excuse for the district letting a building it owns fall into disrepair. Though given the condition of some schools still operating, and the district's ongoing budget woes, it's not hard to see how we got here.
Plus, the district has often sealed these properties only to see someone to break into them again. They come back to life, like zombies.
And that's what we have with abandoned properties in Philadelphia: A zombie invasion. There are 40,000 abandoned properties in the city, bringing blight to residential streets and compromising neighborhoods.
The district owns a handful. The city owns thousands. Tens of thousands sit in private hands. Often, there's no easy way to deal with them. Some can be sold at sheriff sale (and more should be), but others aren't worth much. And it's expensive to tear down a building; the controller estimated a $5 million bill for demolishing those in his report, and that's a lowball.
The Nutter administration has taken some smart steps lately to deal with the situation, including the launch of a new "blight court" at which the city will crack down on private owners of abandoned properties. It's still rolling out a broader plan for what to do with city-owned properties, but that won't include district properties.
With the district at work on closing nine schools, this problem must be solved. The city and district should work together to ensure there's a plan for vacant school buildings, too. Just because the city and the district are separate bureaucracies doesn't mean they can't join forces to fight the zombies.