Gary mayor seeks to demolish abandoned schools deemed 'havens for crime'

GARY, Ind. (WLS) -- The new mayor of Gary wants the city's school corporation to demolish 10 shuttered schools amid growing concerns that they have become havens for crime.

"We identified what we considered to be the most egregious instances of blight as it related to our school buildings," Mayor Jerome Prince said.

On just his third day in office, Prince is demanding the city's school district tear down the 10 schools out of roughly 30 vacant schools, by march at their expense or be in violation of state and city law.

"We're working from the standpoint of the law as illustrated by the state of Indiana," said Gary Building Commissioner Kenneth Willis.

Under Indiana's Unsafe Buildings Law, the district could face thousands of dollars in fines. Despite a few purchase offers on the properties, school officials said they barely have enough money available for schools that are still open.

"We have them listed for sale," said Robert Buggs, Gary School Board president. "This has sort of blindsided everybody."

The emergency manager appointed by the state in 2017 to oversee the Gary school system, which remains over $100 million in debt, issued a statement saying, "The District has not been contacted by the City regarding building inspections, however we look forward to connecting with city officials to discuss plans for the listed properties."

The mayor's demand follows the discovery of another homicide victim inside one of the city's abandoned schools.

"If you just take a look at this, somebody could do something to someone and take them in here, not necessarily kill them but rape them or anything," said Chief Richard Ligon, Gary Police Department.

In November, 27-year-old Adriana Saucedo was found dead inside a shuttered Gary elementary school. Saucedo was allegedly dumped inside the gym of Norton Elementary after three teens fatally shot her, according to police. Norton Elementary has been closed since 2006.

The plan is good news to some residents like Bobbie Stewart, who see a bright future for Gary.

"We want people that want to live here," she said.

It's still unclear how the mayor's plan to demolish these properties will affect the school district's efforts to sell them. There's a meeting about that on Jan. 14.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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