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Column as I see ’em …
Count me among the many still scratching their heads at the tremendous deal the Christian Academy got in buying the old Early Childhood Center building and land for $75,100.
Frankly, I couldn’t be happier for those folks, especially considering the hard work and due diligence they did before making what turned out to be the only bid on that building.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some lingering questions for the school district, which voted unanimously to sell a 46,000 square-foot building and 7.5 acres of land its own appraiser said was worth $170,000, for less than half of that amount.
Even that number seems incredibly low when compared to the most recent tax assessment — yes, publicly owned buildings are assessed. According to the state Property Value Administrator’s office, the 2007 assessment of the building and land came in $3 million, a whopping 40 times the sales price.
Consider, too, that the academy paid roughly $1.60 per square foot for the old ECC, and that initial cost estimates showed that the school district spent $150 per square foot for the new ECC.
Like I said, the sale is a head-scratcher, particularly among those who dabble or make a living in real estate.
Those I know in the biz were flabbergasted over the article in last week’s paper about the sale. Some reckoned that the 7.5 acres of property alone would be worth considerably more than 75 grand, even if a buyer spent a couple hundred thousand to raze the old building.
Others pointed out that a mortgage on $75,000 would be covered two or three times over each month thanks to the Regional Training Center, which the academy said last week is going to continue renting space at the old building.
I know that news made me scratch my head because, earlier this year, the school board debated moving RTC into Turner Elementary before tabling the discussion around the same time it prepared to unload the old building.
Others questioned the school district’s diligence in maximizing a public asset by making no effort to market the location. Even if there were a desire among the district to have that campus continue to serve in education, they said not contacting various colleges and learning centers to encourage bids was inexplicable.
Although the district is bound by goofy federal rules that wouldn’t allow it to rehab the old building, private schools such as the Christian Academy are not, and others could have considered the location an ideal satellite campus.
Me? I can’t help but wonder about the district’s long-range building plans and how that property might have been used.
About a month ago, the school board gave its preliminary OK to a four-year plan that calls for the construction of a $7 million alternative school. It was said at the time that the district would need to acquire land for that building, and it seems particularly short-sighted to virtually give away 7.5 prime acres then turn around in a year or two and spend considerably more to buy land.
Granted, all of the above is pure speculation because neither I nor those who weighed in have access to a document taxpayers paid to have produced but are not being allowed to see.
I intended to produce another news story about the sale this week but struck out in my effort to get a copy of the appraisal. The school superintendent gave me the appraisal amount last week over the phone, and initially offered me a chance to take a look at it in her office.
Shame on me for instead asking her to email a copy because it didn’t take long for her to change her mind and say no.
I despise being told no, so I made a formal request to view the appraisal through the Open Records Act, but was again turned down with a very vague response.
I asked again and was told no a third time when the superintendent and her attorneys rejected my request by citing a specific portion of the statute that deals with appraisals used for property acquisitions, not sales.
Rather than beat what is for now a dead horse, I’ve decided to forward my request to the state Attorney General’s office to see who’s right.
While I certainly have no reason to doubt the veracity of the appraisal — local appraiser Randy Birdwhistell produced it — myself and others are very curious to see if it includes information that could explain why a building and property of that size sold so cheaply.