by Thomas P. Healy
Two historic Midtown schools were affected by the City of Indianapolis Board of School Commissioners’ September 18 vote to “reinvent” Indianapolis public high schools. [PDF]
- the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (the current program), a rigorous college-prep course of study;
- the International Baccalaureate Career-Related Programme (a new program), for students seeking a STEM-oriented career path; and
- the Visual & Performing Arts and Humanities program (the current program now at Broad Ripple High School), for students with creative aspirations in the performing and visual arts.
As anticipated, the Board voted to close Broad Ripple High School at the end of the current school year and put the building and grounds up for sale. With enough room for 2,400 students but an estimated enrollment of 666, the school was recommended for closure and sale in the Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) Facilities Utilization Task Force April 2017 report. [PDF] Estimates of the market price have ranged from $5 to $7 million. “Every action of this board supports this vision for the future: empowered schools, well-prepared students, equity, choice, and stewardship,” said Mary Ann Sullivan, president of the Board of School Commissioners, in a statement after the vote. “We are committed to building a sustainable and continuously improving district.”
COMMUNITY PARTNER: BRVA
The Broad Ripple Village Association (BRVA) wasted no time in mobilizing to address the situation: publishing an online survey, establishing a working group, and engaging with IPS leadership to be a part of the process. “IPS has agreed that we will be their community partner in this process,” said BRHS grad Kent Springer, who serves on the BRVA board. He said BRVA representatives will assist with the Request for Proposals (RFP) criteria and in the review of bids.
BRVA executive director Brooke Klejnot said the working group includes members of the BRVA’s existing economic development, land use and planning and design committees. “Each committee and its members bring a range of professional expertise in site redevelopment and community engagement,” she said. Klejnot said the BRVA’s working group will take the community feedback it has collected and interpret it through the lens of the community’s overarching goals. “The task is to distill the input into clear criteria that the BRVA can communicate to IPS and potential site developers,” she said.
Springer said the results of the BRVA’s outreach efforts are clear. “Generally, residents do not want a developer to come in and build more apartments or condos,” he said. “Nor do they want the site to be entirely commercial or retail.” Springer said the overwhelming majority of the 600 responses BRVA has received indicate people want the site to be community-based—preferably serving an educational purpose. BRVA Survey Report. [PDF]
It’s worth noting that the Envision Broad Ripple Plan, the neighborhood plan adopted by the City of Indianapolis in 2012 to inform land use and zoning decisions in the Village, didn’t envision anything other than a school on the property. While part of the school parcel along Broad Ripple Avenue is included in an area designated in the Plan as Critical Area 3, [PDF] there are no specific recommendations. According to the plan, “The south side of Broad Ripple Avenue has remained relatively stable in land use over the years. The high school, funeral home, and office building that anchor the west end of this stretch have been in place for over 50 years.”
SPECIAL USE or MIXED USE
In general, the plan’s recommendations for this critical area includes adding multifamily residential uses, restricting commercial conversions, and creating an off-street bike and pedestrian trail to connect Broad Ripple Park to the Monon Trail. The plan’s suggestion that “multifamily structures be modest in height” will need to be reconsidered, given that the high school frontage along Broad Ripple Avenue is the tallest structure in the vicinity.
Another factor for consideration is that the property sits within the Economic Development Area that was established prior to creation of the Midtown TIF allocation area. The site’s land use is currently “special use,” so any deviation from that for, say, mixed-use residential and commercial or a hotel or history museum would require a change in zoning.
Prior to leaving IPS at the end of September, David Rosenberg served as operations officer. He’s still contracted to work with the district on special projects, including the sale of Broad Ripple High School. “IPS is re-forming its real estate advisory committee,” he said in an interview after the IPS Board vote. “The group is made up of folks in the community, the Indianapolis Neighborhood Resource Center, Local Initiatives Support Corporation, engineers, and architects who will help us navigate the market.”
Rosenberg said the next step is to work in conjunction with the board on a timeline and a process. “We don’t have it finalized at this point but it’s a fair assumption that we will follow the same method we used for the Massachusetts Avenue Coca-Cola bottling plant.” That project, now called Bottleworks, includes preservation of a historic structure as a hotel and the addition of mixed-use retail and residential elements. The Chatham Arch neighborhood, City of Indianapolis, and Indiana Landmarks were involved in that process, he said.
“It’s not an overnight process,” Rosenberg said. “We’re not hanging a For Sale sign on the building tomorrow.” He said the property sale will take months. “There will be quite a bit of community engagement and public comment. We all want a strong reuse of the building for neighborhood and city overall.” He said the City has been a great partner with IPS. “We have a strong working relationship and we’ll continue that relationship.”
What that relationship looks like remains an open question. At the mayor’s monthly media briefing in September, Joe Hogsett said his administration had not yet been invited to participate. However, Hogsett’s chief of staff, deputy mayor Thomas Cook, added, “I can’t imagine that the administration wouldn’t be involved in such an important property in such an important area.”
Asked about the possibility of using TIF for the project, deputy mayor for economic development Jeff Bennett said that if a proposal is made that requires public support, “We’d take a look at it.” Another sign that the lines of communication between IPS and the City-County Building remain open and active is the hiring of Hogsett’s former Office of Education Innovation head, Ahmed Young, as IPS’ new chief of staff.
IPS knows that plenty of stakeholders are interested in sharing their opinions about use of the former high school property. State Rep. Ed DeLaney has already held a public forum to discuss the closure of BRHS, which sits in his House District 86. “Happily, the IPS Board did not fix a minimum price or forbid the use of the facility for high school education,” Delaney said in a prepared statement. “I am hopeful that our community will come together to support the use of this facility for high school education. That could include one or more quality charter schools and perhaps even a revamped Broad Ripple High School.”
Great schools are a foundational building block of the community—not a ‘nice to have’ but a ‘need to have’ in terms of building a great community.
—City-County Councillor Colleen Fanning
City-County Councillor Colleen Fanning says she expects to have an ongoing dialog with IPS during the process. “My main role is to make sure that IPS is hearing the community’s feedback and input,” she said. She has already heard interest in adding the parcel to the Midtown TIF district, but “that only comes into play if it becomes multifamily and gets developed privately,” she said. Should the property remain an educational institution, she said the TIF wouldn’t be affected at all. “I could envision a scenario where the parcel is broken up, so we want to make sure we’re prepared to reap all the tax benefits from the entire parcel.”
Of concern to both Delaney and Fanning is the loss of a historic educational institution. “The idea of having a neighborhood alma mater with decent classes for all is dead in IPS,” Delaney said in his statement. “It is up to us whether we try to manage the fallout or not. If we fail, IPS is sure to sell to the highest bidder. I am ready to assist those who value high schools more than real estate deals.”
Fanning agrees: “Great schools are a foundational building block of the community—not a ‘nice to have’ but a ‘need to have’ in terms of building a great community. You’re taking away one of the fundamental aspects that keeps people in Broad Ripple.”
Indeed, both elected officials have heard from constituents who have thrown their hands up in despair and either sent their kids to private schools or moved out of the county. “If we can solve that piece of the education puzzle at the high school, I don’t think there’s a community in Central Indiana that can compete with Broad Ripple,” Fanning said. “Between the river, the canal, the cultural district, and a great school, at that point we’re sitting really pretty. I’m very hopeful that this is going to be a net win for the community.”
David Rosenberg agrees. “Everyone’s goal is to keep families within the IPS boundaries, paying taxes and sending kids to IPS schools,” he said. “The reinvention of IPS high schools is to provide pathways to be attractive options to families currently in the district, but also to families who are moving into the district or relocating.”