Abandoned School: The Why, How to Buy & 9 Useful Facts

There are always children to teach, so why do school buildings become abandoned?

abandoned school

1. Reasons for Empty School Buildings

Leaving a school building empty primarily results from a lack of children or funds.

As populations in an area change, you may have a mixture of young, childless adults or retired people.

Without a healthy number of children, a school is unnecessary. Without a school, families with children don’t move into an area, and the school buildings become redundant.

Schools can merge in areas with a declining student roll, leaving surplus school buildings empty.

Older buildings may become too expensive to maintain, and it may make financial sense to move the children into a new building that is cheaper to run and maintain.

School buildings can become abandoned because of economic conditions that mean families move away from an area or natural disasters.

If houses are empty in an area of decline, the schools will start to close.

2. Can You Buy an Abandoned School?

An abandoned school represents a property purchasing opportunity.

The older schools have interesting architectural features, and the more recent schools, although blockier in style, provide plenty of land if the new buyer does not want to reuse the buildings.

You can buy an abandoned school by negotiation with the owner and acquire the legal title to the land and buildings.

What you can do with your purchase depends on local planning rules.

3. What Are the Pros and Cons of Buying an Abandoned School?

The advantages of buying a derelict school building are:

  • Low costs – local government does not want a derelict school attracting crime and bad behavior, and the price for access may be far lower than for other land and buildings.
  • Interesting features – in the older buildings.
  • More space than a traditional home on conversion.
  • Potential for business or charitable uses.
  • Potential for grants and favorable loan funding for regeneration.

The disadvantages include:

  • Budget overruns – renovation or land clean-up costs may be excessive compared with other properties.
  • Poor location – the school was abandoned for a reason, and the present site may be undesirable.
  • Planning issues – historical buildings may be more challenging for renovation.
  • Unattractive buildings – some schools built in the late sixties were ugly.
  • Structural problems – the buildings may contain asbestos and cheap building materials.
  • Legal issues – the land and school may be the subject of a trust.
  • Public protest – schools are community buildings, and people care about their fate.

For some projects, an abandoned school will be profitable and rewarding.

However, sometimes the best thing you can do with an abandoned school is demolish the buildings and start again.

4. How to Buy an Abandoned School?

The first step is to establish who is the owner of the property and then to open negotiations.

Your purchasing route will depend on:

  • Project plan.
  • Financing.

If the school building is historical, you may plan to convert it into a family home or several homes for sale.

You may want a building plot and plan to demolish the buildings. You may have a joint venture or intend to develop the site for a not-for-profit organization.

Your project plan and financing may influence the owner into what deal they will accept.

A grant-funded community project is likely to receive more support from the local government than a housing development – but the opposite may be true if the area is designated as necessary for house building.

5. How to Find the Owner

It is a reasonable assumption that the state owns the school buildings, but there are private schools charities own, and someone may have bought the school and left it as part of their investment portfolio.

The first step in finding the registered owner is to consult the property division of the local government. This information will tell you who (if anyone) is paying the property taxes and the registered owner’s name.

You may encounter difficulties tracking down an owner if the corporation that owns the school no longer exists.

Still, a property lawyer can establish ownership by searching appropriate records.

If physically abandoned and without ownership, the property passes into state hands.

Although you can complete the searches yourself, you may find it more efficient to pay a lawyer to complete the preliminary work and be available to negotiate the purchase.

6. How Much Do Abandoned Schools Cost?

The cost of any property varies depending on the location and the market.

The starting point for the cost of any abandoned school building is the underlying cost of the land.

Land in urban areas with ready access to utilities tends to cost more than land in rural areas. Land in a city with economic decline is likely more affordable than land in a booming economy.

The buildings may add or decrease the value.

Historical buildings with exciting architecture may attract a premium over industrial-style blocks that need demolition.

As an alternative to an outright purchase, some states may lease the buildings if you have a charitable or a business purpose in mind.

In an area with regeneration funding, you may be able to negotiate a token sales price if you commit to a project that will increase employment in the area.

The price you pay for an abandoned school will vary – there isn’t a specific guide price as each situation has unique factors.

7. What Can You Do with an Abandoned School?

As a developer with an abandoned school, you have endless possibilities for repurposing the buildings for residential or business uses.

Some exciting projects using abandoned school buildings as a base include:

  • Retirement homes – school buildings housing a community of classrooms can repurpose into retirement units and retain a community feel.
  • Hotels and hostels.
  • Business hubs.
  • Family homes – either using the buildings or adding in some new builds.
  • Educational – it makes sense to use the classrooms as classrooms and lecture rooms.

Most often, a suitable project will occur when you look around an abandoned school as the building may suggest new ideas depending on its age and layout.

Often abandoned schools can repurpose for multiple uses on the same site.

8. How Many Schools Close Each Year?

Over 1000 public schools close each year in the US.

These are a mixture of regular, special, and alternative schools, covering the whole range of school ages.

Although a school closure does not automatically mean abandoned buildings, there are many abandoned buildings available for reuse each year because of school closures.

9. What Is a Typical Abandoned School?

The typical abandoned school is around 60 years old, with a minimum of 50,000 square feet.

Abandoned schools are typically situated in residential areas and often become part of investment portfolios – bought by developers to develop at some unspecified future date.

The buildings are left to fall because of the high cost of demolishing the buildings, and tearing the buildings down is likely to cost around half a million, depending on their size.

The longer the school remains empty, the less attractive it is as a redevelopment project, and the more likely it will become a hub for anti-social behavior.


Abandoned schools are an opportunity for redevelopment.

The longer a school building remains empty, the more likely you can get the property for a bargain price.

The local government is happy to work with developers who can restore buildings like schools for new purposes because vacant schools accelerate the decline of a neighborhood.

You will most likely find a more modern school available to buy, but some architectural gems are still awaiting a new lease of life.