Over the last two decades (at least), enrollments in schools in rustbelt cities like Erie have declined, forcing consolidations of resources and closures of school buildings. Many of the schools that have been closed were built in the early 20th century and are outdated by modern academic standards – getting a good wifi signal may be a challenge, for example. These schools may also need significant upgrades to critical systems like plumbing and HVAC. However, these urban schools are often also integral parts of their communities, and leaving them vacant can negatively impact the health and vitality of the neighborhoods in which they are located. While the challenges for these large, aging structures are great, their possibilities for adaptive reuse are extensive and can help provide stability to neighborhoods in transition.
Of the schools that were closed by Erie’s Public Schools in 2012, two remain vacant and on the market. After being listed for sale in 2017, Burton School is again on the market. In April 2021, the school board approved Erie’s Public Schools listing Burton School at 1660 Buffalo Road, built in 1894, for $389,000.
Per the Erie Times News article “From Burton to Wayne: These Erie schools are for sale,” written by Ed Palatella and published July 7, 2017, “Burton was named after a family that helped settle that area, and the school originally was located in Millcreek Township and served as a small high school, according to the school district. Burton became part of Erie’s Public Schools following the annexation of land in 1920.”
The second unused school remaining is Irving, which was built around 1897 as Public School No. 6 and renamed in recognition of American author Washington Irving in 1914. It is located at 2310 Plum Street.
In this instance, functional obsolescence is the threat. When their original intended function is no longer needed in the community, a new way of doing business exists, or users prefer a different type or style of space, buildings can be threatened with inappropriate alterations, physical deterioration, or even demolition. The futures of Burton and Irving Schools are unknown as the Erie City school district pursues buyers for the two vacant buildings.