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Longtime closed Memphis school could be used as field hospital site for coronavirus patients

Georgia Avenue Elementary School closed in 2012, pictured here in 2019.
Georgia Avenue Elementary School closed in 2012, pictured here in 2019.
Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat

Update, April 21, 2020: Superintendent Joris Ray pulled this contract from consideration because the health department does not anticipate needing the facility anymore, he said.

A Memphis elementary school closed since 2012 could be converted to a field hospital site to treat COVID-19 patients, according to a proposed agreement between Shelby County Schools and the county’s health department.

The proposal to use Georgia Avenue Elementary School, set to be presented to the board Tuesday for a vote next week, also assumes use of school land surrounding the building. The downtown Memphis school has 72 classrooms over about 144,000 square feet.

The proposal demonstrates one possible use for shuttered schools as the Memphis district tackles a long-term plan for its inventory of empty buildings.

When the school was closed in 2012, the 60-year-old building needed $8.1 million in repairs. The Memphis Housing Authority had been interested in buying it, but the time frame to purchase it expired last year.

The school board member whose district includes Georgia Avenue Elementary, Michelle Robinson McKissack, said she had not seen the proposal yet, but supported the concept.

“If it would help the health department in its efforts to combat COVID-19 in our community, then I would be in support of that effort,” she said Monday.

The county’s health department has already tapped the former Commercial Appeal building downtown and Gateway shopping center in North Memphis. Area hospitals anticipate patient overflow during the pandemic, though the facilities are not needed at this time.

As of Monday morning, 1,807 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Shelby County, about 25% of confirmed cases statewide. The county comprises 13% of the state’s population. So far, 38 of those confirmed cases have died.

The Shelby County Schools board is set to meet at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through video conferencing. The public can tune in to the livestreamed meeting via the district’s radio and TV station 88.5FM and C19TV (on Comcast cable), the board’s website, the Voice of SCS, Facebook, or Twitter.

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