Do school closures contribute to Memphis blight? - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Do school closures contribute to Memphis blight?

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (FOX13) -

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton said he'd be willing to speak with Unified School Board members about how closing schools can impact the city's fight against blight.

About 11 years ago 600 children got their last glimpse of the elementary school generations before them had also attended.

But in saying goodbye to Florida Elementary for many of them it would be a farewell to the South Memphis neighborhood that had grown up around it.

MORE: Hardaway wants city action on school closings
MORE: Reps: Closing 21 schools doesn't make sense

From the porch of an abandon house, a view of a demolition project across the street serves as a reminder that when it comes to bricks and mortar, nothing is built to last.

Not even the once venerable Florida Elementary School.

"There's a short story, a short play called 'The Last Leaf,'" Mayor Wharton said. "In too many of our communities the school building represents that last leaf. After which it goes, the neighborhood goes."

MORE: School closings expected to be discussed at special SCBE meeting Nov 29

On the day Unified School board members will contemplate closing more than a handful of city schools to save money, the last vestiges of what was once the anchor of an active neighborhood were being ground into dust. For eight decades, thousands of children had passed through the school's doors, trudged to class through its creaking hallways and breathed in its asbestos-laden air.

Though closed in May 1999, the building had stood unused for 11 years before the Shelby County Health Department filed a complaint just months ago calling the site contaminated with asbestos material. But, just as dead are the now abandon homes that once surrounded the beloved school. Their deterioration has resulted in blight putting a stranglehold on the community.

It serves as a perfect example of the dire results Memphis State Rep. G. A. Hardaway (District 92) warned this week could happen if the school board goes through with its plan for closings without seeking consultation from city government.

"The city, for instance, do with the hope six projects in getting total community involvement in seeking out the different ways to measure the impact of the actual project on the community," Rep. Hardaway said. "Without having the mayor and HCD director involved at the TPC level. They sent over a faulty product."

However, a cautious Mayor Wharton isn't ready to jump into a controversy without formal invitation. Although he admits the city certainly has experience in the area of gauging the effects on neighborhoods of closing parks and libraries to save money, he doesn't want to admittedly come off as being "hypocritical" in lending advice. But, if he were ask, he might have some suggestions.

"Talk in terms of what we call adaptive reuse, in which it might not be used as a school building," Mr. Wharton said. "But, it could become a youth center or a senior citizen or an art center or whatever."

Yet, for old Florida Elementary a reprieve did not come, for those who once passed through its doors "the last leaf" fell years ago.

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