Networking Abandoned Schools to Community Centers

Sponsoring Organization: Taller Comunidad La Goyco

Team Members: Tiana Am (Aerospace Engineering ’23), Nicholas Chantre (Electrical and Computer Engineering ’23), Noah Skinner (Mechanical Engineering ’23) and Christian Stilwagen (Robotics Engineering ’23)

Advisors: Professor Alex Sphar and Professor Brigette Servatius

Download the Full report

Download the Final Presentation

Download La Goyco’s Case Study Brochure

Visit the General Guide Website


In Puerto Rico, 673 (44%) public schools closed due to lack of student enrollment from 2007-2018 (Othering & Belonging Institute, UC Berkeley et al., 2020), 187 of them in 2017, the year of Hurricanes Maria and Irma. Abandoned school buildings are for sale or lease across the island. Our sponsor, La Goyco, is a non-profit organization that has successfully acquired and repurposed a vacant school building into a community center. The goal of this project was to conduct interviews with La Goyco and similar organizations to assist communities who want to rescue their community’s abandoned school. We created a deep case study of our sponsor La Goyco, a general guide website for those who are looking to repurpose a vacant school building, and started a network of community centers to help form collective action.

Photo of Abandoned School Building, Escuela Carlos Conde, located in Carolina Puerto Rico

Executive Summary 


Due to an economic recession in Puerto Rico along with the devastation caused by hurricanes Maria and Irma in 2017, over 600 public schools across the island have permanently closed (Othering & Belonging Institute, UC Berkeley et al., 2020). Beyond providing an education to its local community, school buildings were also community strongholds that were used as spaces for voting, housing during power outages, emergencies and more. It is for this reason that when a school is permanently closed, a major aspect of a community’s resources are also lost. In most cases, there is often no organized plan to repurpose the vacant school buildings. However, in recent years, there has been a growing movement of repurposing vacant school buildings into community centers in Puerto Rico. Our sponsor, La Goyco, is a non profit organization who has successfully acquired a vacant school building located in Santurce, Puerto Rico and transformed it into a community center. Today, La Goyco offers cultural, environmental and health programs to empower members of the Machuchal community. Examples of recurring cultural events are jazz concerts, plena workshops, and outdoor cinema nights. Examples of recurring environmental events include monthly brigades and glass art workshops. Examples of recurring health events include the monthly community fair where health services, like covid vaccinations and blood pressure readings, are offered.

Photo of the Front of La Goyco located in Santurce, Puerto Rico

La Goyco

La Goyco is a nonprofit organization working out of the former Pedro G Goyco school in the municipality of Santurce that provides cultural, health, and environmental services and programs to the community of Machuchal. Following the school’s closing in 2017, the community led a grassroots effort to rescue their school and proposed the creation of a community center that would serve as a space of celebration and resilience. La Goyco’s mission is to create programs, initiatives and opportunities to highlight the historical, social and potential wealth of the Machuchal community and the Loíza street sector in Santurce, Puerto Rico (La Goyco).

Mission and Objectives

The goal of this project was to assist communities and organizations, such as La Goyco, who wish to start the process of repurposing an abandoned school building into a community center. Through completing the following objectives, we were able to accomplish the following goals: 


  1. Conducting a deep case study of La Goyco
  2. Creating a general guide website for starting community projects out of abandoned school buildings
  3. Creating a network of similar community initiative

Photo of La Goyco’s Monthly Community Fair

Case Study Brochure

In our completion of a case study of La Goyco, our team scheduled and conducted interviews with all staff members, as well as key individuals who helped La Goyco in their process. From our interviews, we were able to document the detailed history of the organization, complete an expanded explanation of its central themes of culture, health and environmental, and list all recurring events, programs and services offered. Through our interviews, we discovered that the focus of La Goyco’s center and continued mission has always been to identify and address the needs of its community. To best encapsulate our work, our team decided on creating a brochure. Our case study covers the following dimensions of La Goyco’s center: Mission statement, history, overview of La Goyco’s pillars, the culture pillar, the environment pillar, the health pillar, and sustaining impact. A Spanish and English version were created, both for the community members and potential donors who may not speak English.

General Guide Website

Our team conducted interviews with four community nonprofit organizations to create a guide with accurate and actionable information meant to assist communities looking to repurpose an abandoned school building. In our interviews, we asked a series of questions covering the most important dimensions of this kind of project. From our interviews and additional research, we determined the following topics to be the most important for our general guide website: Project Development, Outreach, Acquiring Abandoned School, Renovations, Financial Operations and Staffing & Volunteers.

Creating a Network 

Prior to coming to Puerto Rico, our team identified community center projects out of abandoned schools that we would reach out to with the hope of scheduling an interview. Beyond the findings and results of our research, we intended to start the foundation of a network of community initiatives out of abandoned schools that La Goyco could utilize in the near future for collaborative projects. The value of this network to La Goyco and the organizations involved will be continually relevant and resourceful to learn from, collaborate, and support each other. To best encapsulate this foundation, our team created a list of the organizations in various stages of repurposing a vacant school building that we were able to interview and connect with in our time in Puerto Rico.


The following recommendations originate from thoughts to improve upon our research:

Incorporating pieces of the case study into La Goyco’s existing website. We’d like to add more information about La Goyco’s history, the fundamental pillars, and descriptions of the businesses that operate on La Goyco’s second floor. This would not replace La Goyco’s current website but add more information for the community to better understand La Goyco and its mission. We also recommend that an English version of the website be incorporated to attract donors and other sponsors to the project who may not speak Spanish.

Hosting a networking event where interviewed organizations attend. We recommend a networking event be held to introduce and connect the directors and staff of these organizations to help form an initial network of community centers. We recommend the organizations that are included at this event are the organizations we interviewed, as they expressed interest in forming a network.  

Continuation of the general guide website. From our research and interviews, we were able to create a general guide for organizations looking to transform abandoned schools into community centers. This guide is a good starting point for a more detailed guide to be widely shared. We recommend that this guide is continued in a future IQP project to further the research conducted for this project.


This project was the first between the WPI Puerto Rico Project Center and Taller Comunidad La Goyco. The past seven weeks we have worked to build a prosperous relationship with La Goyco and their staff. We were able to gather information from La Goyco and four other community center organizations in order to create three deliverables: a case study brochure, general guide website for abandoned school transformation, and a networking master list. We believe that with these tools, our sponsor will be able to continue their efforts amongst the community and Puerto Rico. Future projects have the ability to compound and add to our efforts by collecting more information on the several community center efforts across the island. We have begun to build a strong network with the centers identified and believe that such relationships can be continued with future projects. We look forward to La Goyco and the WPI Puerto Rico Project Center reaping the benefits of the foundation we have laid.

Photo of IQP team, advisors and founder of La Goyco, Mariana Reyes