District Hires Investment Firm to Evaluate Assets

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Thursday November 19, 2015

The school district has retained White + Burke Real Estate Investment Advisers to assist in the next steps of the district’s master planning and visioning. White + Burke will be evaluating financial feasibility, providing cost/benefit analysis, and assessing market viability on behalf of the district. They are commencing with phase one of the project and will provide regular updates to the board. The cost of phase 1 is $50,000 and, while not initially in the budget, the funding was supported by offsets from early retirements.

The master planning and visioning process has been in the works for over a year now. After the task force presented their school reconfiguration recommendations to the school board, Superintendent David Young made his recommendation to the board: one consolidated elementary school. While the board has yet to weigh in, they did decide that more information is needed before a decision can be made, and hired White + Burke to assist in the financial aspect of the evaluation.

Another option was made public at the October 13 steering committee meeting of the city council and the school board. City Manager Kevin Dorn made a proposal to the board that involved a land swap: the Central School property for the Oak Creek site. The idea is that the city could use the school property on Market Street to advance their goals for City Center, while the school district could use the Oak Creek site (along with additional adjacent property) to build a new elementary school. Board Chair Elizabeth Fitzgerald made it clear at the November 4 meeting that the board has not responded to the city’s land swap proposal and is conducting their due diligence with the assistance of White and Burke.

Board members Martin LaLonde and Julie Beatty reported that they met jointly with White and Burke and clarified the scope of phase 1. They wanted to ensure flexibility in how the Central property can be used and to clarify that the district property is free of restrictions. LaLonde added that the community should be able to weigh in on how the property is used, if the district chooses to discontinue its use as an elementary school. The pair also discussed the school configuration options they want evaluated such as maintaining the status quo, moving from three elementary schools down to two (consolidating the current student body into two existing elementary schools), or building one new consolidated school.

Members of the public inquired about a timeline, community input, and grade configuration. The timeline, while not yet solidified, is being addressed at a swift enough pace so as not to jeopardize quality, LaLonde explained. He noted that there are questions the board needs answered before seeking community feedback. “How much revenue can we get from the schools and how much would we need in order to build a new one if that ends up happening,” he inquired.

While members of the board will meet weekly with White + Burke to receive updates on phase 1, the board made it clear that determining school configuration is not under the firm’s purview.

The school board has not yet begun to discuss the configuration issue either, but Frank Locker, the primary consultant for the Master Planning and Visioning Task Force will be present at the next board meeting to offer his expertise on the matter.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent