There as been a renewed interest from a developer looking to purchase the old Wellington Junior High School building, 311 N. A St., from the school district. The Board of Education passed a motion to sell the building, 5-1. The offer currently on the table is $150,000.
At the Jan. 10 Board of Education meeting, Superintendent, Rick Weiss told the Board what had come up. Garrison Properties from the Kansas City area, who had approached USD 353 a couple of years ago, made the offer to the district.
"The second developer that was here in 2010, when the casino might locate in Wellington, at the time his decision was based on that," Weiss told the BOE. If the casino had come to Wellington, Garrison would have bought the building then.
As most know, the Kansas Star Casino is now fully operational in Mulvane, Kan. But Garrison Companies contacted Weiss earlier in the week to get the ball rolling again.
"He's interested in completing that transaction by the end of the month," the Superintendent said at the meeting.
This isn't the first offer the BOE has heard for the old junior high. Also in 2010, the Wellington Rec Center had aspirations of moving into the facility, but could offer the district no money to purchase it. Cohen-Esrey Affordable Partners, also from the K.C. area, told the district they could offer $250,000 for the property, but the deal fell through in the negotiations phase.
Weiss said when the district had the old junior high property appraised by Sumner County, the appraisal was for $615,000. The offer of $150,000 seemed low to a couple of Board Members.
"And this price isn't all that high, but nevertheless, the money we will save by selling is what we need to have happen," said Dixie Blankenship. The Board discussed what cost would no longer be the district's responsibility.
"Insurance, upkeep, utilities, future maintenance," said BOE Member, Bob White. "The main thing is if he buys it, it goes back on the tax rolls." The discussion turned to groups and organizations that currently use the facility that would be displaced once the junior high is renovated into an apartment complex of some kind, as is believed to be Garrison's plans.
"We're displacing a lot of people and activities, those are things to consider as well," said BOE Member, Maria Cornejo.
"That's true, but the district can't afford to keep a building like that and not use it fully," said BOE President, Jackie Berryman. Board Member, Angie Ratcliff expressed her feelings on the issue saying structurally, the old junior high is one of the best buildings in town.
"At the same time, it's an old building setting there, nothing's being done with it," Ratcilff continued. "I think if there's someone willing to come into our community and put the money into it to renovate into apartments...I think it's wonderful, I think it's great that we have somebody knocking on the door." An e-mail sent to Garrison Properties from The Wellington Daily News requesting an interview has yet to be returned.
Page 2 of 3 - There are still plenty of issue to iron out surrounding the sale of the old junior high. As per the motion that was passed, District administrators will continue to work with the developer and negotiate. BOE Member, Dena Martens was no present for the January meeting; Ratcliff made the motion, White had the second, Cornejo was the lone vote against the motion.
"My big reason has to do with the price," she said. Ratcliff compared the empty building to others that still stand only in pictures of the community's past.
"I think of another building that was toyed with that was called the Antler's Hotel, and now it's gone," she said. "That was a tragedy to watch that building deteriorate, catch on fire and eventually be torn down." Weiss and most of the BOE selling the building is a positive for the district.
"It's a beautiful building, and we don't have the funds to keep it like needs to be," Berryman said.
The Wellington Rec Commission had an interest in moving into the old junior high building, but wasn't in a position to purchase the facility from the district. Former WRC Superintendent, William Weber said it would take a joint effort from the WRC, the City of Wellington and USD 353 to see that plan through. Weber stated to the BOE that he estimated WRC's utility cost after moving into the building would have been around $30,000 to $40,000 a year. At the same meeting in January, USD 353 Superintendent, Rick Weiss told the board about a phone call from Cohen-Esrey Affordable Partners, a LLC, a Kansas City-based developer specializing in affordable workforce and senior rental housing. The ballpark offer presented to Weiss via a phone was between $200,000 and $250,000.
At the Board of Education meeting the choice was made to explore the direction of selling the old middle school property to Cohen-Esrey Affordable Partners.
The offer presented to the school district was $250,000 for the purchase of the property. In total the developer's project would have cost $7.5 million. $5.5 million of that was slated for construction costs.
In a memo to the district from Jeff Beckham, Cohen-Esrey Development partner, earlier that week, a "good portion" of the $5.5 million would go back into the community through the purchase of materials and local sub-contracting.
Cohen-Esrey, a Kansas City-based developer specializing in "affordable workforce and senior rental housing." They planed on using a $7 million tax credit equity for the development.
After hearing the potential price tag, and knowing how much the money could help the current owner – USD 353, the Wellington Rec Commission decided to take its hat out of the ring for the old junior high.
Page 3 of 3 - "Cohen-Esrey offered them $250,000," William Weber said, former WRC Superintendent. "We didn't want to scar their offer by trying to pursue it, to get them [USD 353] to give us a lesser deal or give it to us for free when they're in such need from financial cut backs."
After the deal with Cohen-Esrey fell through in the late stages, Garrison Properties from Kansas City approached the BOE about buying the old junior high. Once the casino ended up going to exit 33 in Mulvane, Garrison backed out.
Garrison Properties puts an offer of $150,000 on the table for the BOE to consider. The Board passes a motion to negotiate and sell the building.