Vacant classrooms haunt Arizona school boards

Tombstone Union High School, historically sits empty and boarded up. The high school has been empty since 2006. February 3, 2015, Tombstone, AZ. Photo by: Alexandra Adamson/ Arizona Sonora News Service.

Gov. Doug Ducey’s hope that vacant classrooms and schools can be leased to charter schools might not hold much hope for rural Arizona.

The pace of charter school development happens most in urban areas, and many people see no dream of converting the old Tombstone High School into a new educational venture for charter education

The same holds true for many vacant classrooms in Southeast Arizona.

Tombstone Union High School first opened in 1922, and closed down in 2006.

“It was for sale in 2007 before being taken off the market, and now it has been for sale again for about one year,” said Linda D’Ambrose, realtor for Tombstone Real Estate.

Since it is a historic building to the town of Tombstone, many people would rather see it vacant than torn down.

Tombstone Union High School’s old gymnasium. The Yellow Jackets have since moved to a new location down the road. February 3, 2015, Tombstone, AZ. Photo by: Alexandra Adamson/Arizona Sonora News.

“People seem interested in the property, but it has been focused on by people who are interested in tearing it down or using it for other purposes rather than education,” said D’Ambrose.

Schools are encountering empty classrooms from a drop in enrollment in the past year.

“Enrollment decreased to 1,150-1,200 students from 1,350 students last year. Therefore we have some empty classrooms,” said Ben Travis, the new superintendent at Willcox Unified School District.

Half of Willcox High School burnt down in January, 2011. When the school was rebuilt, new classrooms were added to the blueprint. With the drop of enrollment there are “2-4 empty classrooms, but they will be closed until enrollment increases again. They are not for sale,” said Travis.

Although public schools have empty classrooms not all charter schools are looking to expand. Or have the ability to expand into other counties from their original location.

“We are right where we want to be,” said Jim Fogarty, Director of Berean Academy, “we are not a candidate.” Berean Acadamy is a tuition free charter school in Sierra Vista, Arizona. 

Many school districts with vacant space to fill are located in rural communities. Charter schools will be dealing with the difficulty of having students be able to travel to the outside communities to fill in those classrooms.

Tucson alone has 107 charter schools ranging from kindergarten to 12th grade. Cochise, Graham, Greenlee and Santa Cruz counties only have 23 charter schools.

Alexandra Adamson is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at

Click here for a Word version of this story and hi-resolution photos. 

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