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IPS starts process of finding new uses for Broad Ripple, John Marshall high schools

August 24, 2018

Indianapolis Public Schools is now seeking proposals to transform the sites of two of its former high schools: Broad Ripple High School on the north side and John Marshall High School on the east side. 

IPS is seeking proposals from not-for-profits, including charter schools, interested in leasing either of the two sites, giving entities a deadline of Oct. 11 to respond. IPS is asking for leases of at least 15,000 square feet of either building.

IPS is first seeking potential “civic and public uses” for the schools. But it also plans to study other opportunities, such as residential, retail or commercial opportunities. 

The district said it will complete a market analysis by the end of 2018, and provide a public report in January. IPS said in a press release that it hopes the school board will make a final decision about the properties by summer 2019.

The Legislature has somewhat limited the district’s options. If it moves to sell the properties, it would first have to offer charter schools the chance to scoop up the school buildings for just $1. The conditions for IPS' retaining ownership of the buildings but leasing them are more favorable, said Superintendent Lewis Ferebee.

“There have been nonprofits and charters who have openly expressed interest in space,” Ferebee said, including Purdue Polytechnic High School. “This is our way of getting the landscape really clear of what the interest is out there.”

Ferebee said earning revenue from the lease “would be helpful” but “the dollar sign is not the sole driver." IPS is asking voters this fall to approve referendums that will generate $220 million in new operating revenue and $52 million in revenue for capital expenses for the district.

“We want to be smart about how [the buildings] are repurposed and we may still use a portion of the buildings,” Ferebee said. “This is a way for us to maximize usage and if we get some revenue for it as well, that would be great too.”

For instance, Ferebee said there’s a possibility IPS could turn part of the former Broad Ripple High School into a neighborhood elementary school.

“Really, if you look at Broad Ripple, the northern end of our boundary, one could make the argument there is a need for a neighborhood school. It’s a possibility because of the location," he said. "That may be an ideal scenario for that side of town. Of course, it would have to be multi-use, because you wouldn’t use the entire campus for a K-8 school.”

What happens to the nearly 16.5-acre Broad Ripple property has been the subject of much debate of late, with school reform advocates asking IPS to lease the site to Purdue University’s Polytechnic High School for placement of its second high school. Purdue already operates a charter-like high school within IPS as a so-called “innovation school.” 

Scott Bess, head of school for Purdue Polytechnic, said it delivered a proposal to IPS through The Mind Trust back in February, asking IPS to enter into a 99-year lease to Purdue in exchange for a payment of between $6 million and $8 million.

“The message we got back was that it got floated to the rest of the commissioners and there was no interest in that,” Bess told IBJ. 

When some scoffed that IPS would rebuff Purdue’s offer, IPS said it had never received an official offer.

Technically, Bess said, “they’re correct.”

“We never made a formal offer,” Bess said. “We gave a framework to talk about an offer.”

The dispute has resulted in a war of words in letters to the editor in The Indianapolis Star, with some pressuring IPS to make a deal with Purdue. Bess said certain groups like the Broad Ripple Village Association have been “very nicely advocating on our behalf” but “we’ve never driven any of that.”

Six school board members wrote in one recent letter that “many in the Broad Ripple community have indicated support for an educational purpose at this site.”

“Purdue Polytechnic may well be selected for this purpose,” the members wrote. “However, they are not the only possible choice. Have other possibilities been explored? No, because a process to identify the best opportunities for reuse is just beginning.”

Would the Purdue group apply again?

Bess said “let’s just wait and see.”

“If they do something that fits our time frame and cost structure, we’re interested in talking to them,” Bess said. “If what they propose doesn’t, we’ll keep going forward with another option.”

What happens to the John Marshall property, which is nearly 40 acres and located on the far-east side, near the intersection of East 38th Street and Mitthoeffer Road, has gotten less attention, but Ferebee said he is excited about the possibilities of that site.

“The interest we’ve had from Glick Philanthropies and the city has been great,” Ferebee said. “We could see some compelling proposals from civic and nonprofit groups that may be interested in either building.”

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