NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Converting Commercial Spaces into Schools

August 18, 2000

Public school enrollments are exploding and education officials are having a hard time building schools fast enough. So they are resorting to the conversion of former commercial spaces -- such as shopping malls -- into classrooms.

  • Public school enrollments from kindergarten through grade 12 have jumped 15 percent just since 1990 -- to 47.5 million this year.
  • Enrollments -- which stood at 39.4 million as recently as 1985 -- are estimated to hit 48.4 million by 2005.

Converting commercial spaces to handle the influx offers a number of benefits, educators say.

  • Conversions take less time than building from the ground up -- and cost less.
  • Vacant land needed for new construction is difficult to find in many urban settings -- but buildings such as malls come with parking lots which can often be turned into sports facilities.
  • Conversions are often located closer to where children live -- which shortens school bus routes and encourages greater parent participation in school affairs.
  • Smaller facilities, such as former grocery stores, limit the maximum sizes of schools -- which many believe is one key to better education.
Source: Haya El Nasser, "Schools Forced to Roam in Search of More Room," USA Today, August 18, 2000.


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