Time to move on former school

Time to move on former school

District 88 has tried to sell the former school building at 15 N. State St. for about seven years.

The School Board has determined that the historic building, as beautiful and solid as it is, is a drain on the school budget.

The district still needs the building’s auditorium and some office space, but the rest of the building sits empty. The building, whose original section is a century old, can no longer meet current standards to serve as a school.

The district spends $70,000-plus a year to operate it. An additional $15,000-plus goes toward insurance. The district would soon need to invest about $4.7 million (in 2007 prices) to address pending maintenance issues (such as roof replacement).

The building would be costly to demolish (not that it is anyone’s intention) because it was built with asbestos. Demolition costs would run at about $1 million (in 2007 prices).

A couple of years ago, a near-deal to sell the school to a developer who would convert it into apartments fell through at the last minute.

Since then, developers have not exactly been knocking on the door.

A few months ago, a newly-formed group, called Cenate and comprised of prominent community members (bankers, business execs, attorneys, etc.), approached the School Board.

They offered to buy the building for $25,000; allow the district to use the auditorium for $1 per year for up to 10 years; and lease the office space back to the district at $5,000 per month for two years.

Meanwhile, Cenate would use the two years to attempt to get the building designated as a historic landmark, which would result in historic tax credits.

Cenate is hoping that the tax credits would entice a developer to take on the building and re-purpose it into apartments. The tax credits would offset some 40 percent of the cost of the project.

Members of Cenate, many of whom support the performing arts, would continue to own and operate the auditorium.

On Thursday night, the School Board accepted Cenate’s offer.

Some have questioned the sale price – a fraction of the property’s value – and the office rent – which, over two years, would more than offset that price. When you do the math, they note, the district appears to end up paying someone to take the building out of their hands.

But is that such as bad deal?

The building has, in a sense, turned into the white elephant that syphons money out a budget better spent on educating the students. The school district cannot act as a developer, or legally obtain historic tax credits. That agency needs to be for-profit.

Cenate seems to be a reputable, above-the-board group. It acknowledges that the district is helping carry costs during the period of transition.

Cenate appears willing to go through a burdensome bureaucratic process to get tax credits. It seems strongly motivated by a desire to preserve a local landmark as a living, viable community asset. We commend the intention and wish them success.

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