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Neighbors worry about future of two Butler-owned buildings

The building which once housed IPS School 86, now owned by Butler University, sits vacant Tuesday, April 2, 2024, at 200 W. 49th St. in Indianapolis. (Photo by Jenna Watson/Mirror Indy)

INDIANAPOLIS (MIRROR INDY) — Ed Fujawa, who lives in Butler-Tarkington, is worried about the former IPS School 86 building in his neighborhood. 

The brick building, at 49th Street and Boulevard Place, carries a legacy that’s important to Fujawa and to many of his neighbors. When the federal courts found that Indianapolis Public Schools was still operating a segregated school system as recently as the early 1970s, federal judge S. Hugh Dillin pointed to the elementary school as a “lone exception” that was already integrated. 

“The acknowledgment from the judge about the school’s involvement in the integration efforts of IPS schools I think is quite notable,” said Fujawa, who writes a history blog called Class 900

Butler University bought the building after IPS closed the school in 1997. Many probably associate the building more with the International School, which rented it until two years ago. 

Now the unoccupied building is showing its age. At one of the building’s entrances facing 49th Street, the paint is peeling on the doors and two large concrete railings. Vines are overgrowing on entrances and windows.

Some worry School 86 will be demolished

Fujawa, also who wrote a book about the disappearance of the city’s historical locations called “Vanished Indianapolis,” knows what often happens to older buildings that are vacant: They can get torn down.

Butler University communications manager Katie Palmer Wharton wouldn’t say what the university plans to do with the building. When asked if Butler had any plans to commemorate School 86’s history, she said it’s a possibility but the university has not committed to anything. 

Vines grow over a stone sign at former IPS School 86, now owned by Butler University, on Tuesday, April 2, 2024, at 200 W. 49th St. in Indianapolis. (Photo by Jenna Watson/Mirror Indy)

In the meantime, Wharton said the university would make sure the building is secure and emphasized that it’s up to code. 

“Our first priority with any of these properties is first and foremost to make sure that they are safe, so they’re not currently occupied buildings,” Wharton said. “There may be something that a neighbor might find unsightly, but our first and primary priority is and will always be the safety of our community.” 

Butler also owns former Lambda Chi building

Neighbors are also eyeing another structure owned by Butler: the former Lambda Chi fraternity house at 4271 Sunset Ave., directly across from Chatham Tap. It was built in 1928, the same year as Hinkle Fieldhouse. 

The chapter temporarily left campus after being suspended by Lambda Chi International in 2017 following a conduct review. Lambda Chi returned a few years ago, but is in a different location. Butler University, meanwhile, bought the Sunset Avenue property in 2020 for $1.7 million. 

A former fraternity building owned by Butler University sits vacant Tuesday, April 2, 2024, at 4721 Sunset Ave. in Indianapolis. (Photo by Jenna Watson/Mirror Indy)

The building sits empty. A view from the parking lot next door shows the back of the building with numerous boarded-up windows, and some with missing glass. 

It’s drawn attention from neighbors on Facebook, who see the declining building and wonder if it will survive. That includes Danielle Havens, who serves on the neighborhood association’s board and who spoke up at a recent board meeting.

“There are windows broken there, the wood looks bad, it’s almost like they are getting to a point it’s not going to be a salvageable building,” Havens said.

Michael Lofton, Butler’s senior director of community and government relations, said the university has not received any formal complaints. 

“The reason it’s boarded up is we don’t want people breaking into it and kids using it,” Lofton said. “Our maintenance team does the best job that they can for the homes that we own.” 

Lofton later went on to say Butler bought the building “as is,” and that Butler does not yet have plans for the building. 

Butler hopes to be a good neighbor

Both School 86 and the former Lambda Chi house are in stark contrast to the gleaming new Bill and Joanne Dugan Hall or the renovated building that became Residential College

Lofton and Wharton, though, both emphasized the university strives to be a good neighbor, and they work with all the Midtown areas, including Meridian-Kessler, Crown Hill and Rocky Ripple. 

“A strong Midtown is a strong Butler, and a strong Butler is a strong Midtown,” Lofton said. 

He pointed to recent initiatives such as the announcement of the Founder’s College, which will provide underserved students with a chance to obtain a bachelor’s degree for around $10,000.  

Stephanie Patterson Cline, president of the Butler-Tarkington Neighborhood Association, said Butler University is an asset and a stabilizing force for the area. She said Butler has worked with the neighborhood association in the recent past, pointing to Butler’s original plan to tear down an older home and build a new home for its university president, which was controversial.  

“For the president’s house there were some things we asked them to do, and they were actually accommodating,” Cline said. For example: The plans called for a taller home, but Butler lowered the elevation in response to neighborhood concerns.

As for the School 86 building, Cline says she has no direct relationship, but she wishes Butler would honor the school’s civil rights legacy in some way. The university was founded by an abolitionist and from its beginning enrolled students of color. It was located in Irvington at that time. 

And Fujawa does not want to see the building become another entry in Indy’s ongoing catalog of lost history. 

“Let’s talk about potential re-uses and I’d like to see Butler engaged in those discussions,” Fujawa told Mirror Indy, “Whether it be a community center-type development, or for Butler itself. Let’s bring this issue to the forefront.” 

What’s next

The Butler-Tarkington Neighborhood Association plans to discuss the School 86 building at its May meeting. 

E.C. Waldron is a contributor to Mirror Indy. Contact her at