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Closing a school can cause mixed feelings for the school district and community, K-State education professor says

By Jennifer Newberry

 

Countless school buildings were constructed in the central United States after World War II ended in 1945. Although these buildings were only meant to last 50 years, they are now approaching 60 years of service.

David ThompsonAs buildings begin to fall apart, school officials are faced with a decision: Do they continue to repair their dilapidated building or close the school?

"A reason why schools close is because the building is so outdated and in such need of repair that it may have unfixable physical problems," said David C. Thompson, a Kansas State University professor of educational leadership. "In other words, the financial aspect of keeping the building open has outlived its physical usefulness from a repair point of view."

A change in curriculum can also decide a building's fate. Older school buildings cannot support technological advances in curriculum, such as computers and electrical work, very well, Thompson said.

"Redoing something inside of an old building is sometimes more expensive than getting rid of the old building. Pretty soon, you spend the money on the building instead of the children and that's a very bad thing to do," he said.

Of course, the condition of the school is not the only reason a school might close. Other financial reasons may also come into play. When a school district is forced to reduce its budget, it may look at having fewer schools open, Thompson said. Instead of reducing the teaching staff, a district might close one or more school buildings.

When a school closes, it affects the sense of community that surrounds the school, Thompson said. "It takes an entity out of that part of the city or community that was there before and the people who are attached to the building are going to feel a sense of loss."

Thompson said it is common for people to think that once a school closes, it means their town is on a decline.

"No question about it since school closure is never something people do because they just absolutely want to do it," Thompson said. "The only way I can conceive that happening is if you were building a new school right next to the old one and the same kids and teachers went over to the new building."

A neighborhood school is something parents invest in personally with their emotion and time because they want the best for their children, Thompson said.

"When the school goes away, a piece of them is gone, too. They can't help but feel bad," he said.

Summer 2005