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OPS plans to close Yates Community Center, may use building as teacher housing

OPS plans to close Yates Community Center, may use building as teacher housing

Omaha Public Schools officials plan to close Yates Community Center and move programs now offered there to another location.

Yates, located at 32nd Avenue and Davenport Street, is an OPS-run community center providing job-training classes for refugee and immigrant adults. Pre-K classes had been held there after it became a community center, but those classes have been moved to the nearby Gifford Park Elementary School, which opened this school year near 32nd and Webster Streets.

This week, OPS Superintendent Cheryl Logan met with several groups to discuss the plans.

Jeremy Maskel, a spokesman for the district, said Wednesday that a facility study found that the building would require significant repairs that could cost millions of dollars.

Maskel said the district will continue to provide the programs currently offered at Yates at a new location — possibly at the nearby Teacher Administration Center — and try to minimize the impact on program participants.

Logan reportedly told people that the building may be transformed into housing for teachers.

Maskel said the district is still exploring its options for the future of the building, but confirmed that one option being explored is staff housing. When Logan worked for the School District of Philadelphia, two buildings in the city were converted into apartments to house teachers and offices for nonprofit groups.

In a press release, the district said options for the building could include selling it “to facilitate a new chapter for the building that honors both its history in the community and educational mission.”

Before the community center could be converted to another use, the OPS board first would have to vote to declare the building as surplus, then vote on selling it and then approve the sale itself.

Maskel said the timeline for moving programs would be at the end of the school year.

Gifford Park Elementary opened this school year after residents of the neighborhood spent 16 years fighting for a neighborhood school. The residents repeatedly said they did not want to see Yates torn down to make that happen.

Gifford Park parents and residents spoke at school board meetings, started a letter-writing campaign and planted “Save Yates” lawn signs in their front yards.

OPS ended up buying land from Creighton University Medical Center in 2016 for the new elementary school.

Eliza Perry, president of the Gifford Park Neighborhood Association, said in a statement Tuesday that the association looks forward to working with OPS to ensure an even brighter future for programming currently housed at Yates.

“We love our neighbors who attend Yates and we support and trust OPS to do what is best for our students, the communities that depend on Yates and our Gifford Park community,” the statement said.

The Yates school, which dated to 1917, served as the neighborhood school for years, but it closed in 1999 and was turned into an alternative school. It was built by the same architect who designed Joslyn Castle, and residents consider it a landmark.

“It is such a perfect location for the programs for refugees,” Cheryl Hansen, an ESL instructor at the center, told the school board in 2015. “Many of our refugees live in this neighborhood. It is so convenient to walk or take a bus to Yates.”

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Emily covers K-12 education, including Omaha Public Schools. Previously, Emily covered local government and the Nebraska Legislature for The World-Herald. Follow her on Twitter @emily_nitcher. Phone: 402-444-1192.

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