District 51 closures, property sales examined
With $5.1 million to $8.1 million in budget cuts a possibility for School District 51’s 2012—13 budget, district leaders are saying everything is on the table for reductions.
That theoretically includes the 75 properties on more than 800 acres the district owns in Mesa County.
The district is evaluating all property to determine what would be worth selling or attempting to sell, according to District 51 Executive Director of Support Services Melissa Callahan DeVita. While property values vary and the current real estate market is full of dropping prices, DeVita said the district could save between $800,000 and $1.2 million by closing a school. Most of the savings would come in elimination of staff, although some money would be saved on maintenance and utilities.
District 51 leaders have discussed the possibility of closing Scenic Elementary and saving $1.2 million simply by shutting down operations at the school. The district could fetch additional cash by selling the land and the school, which together are valued at $3.27 million, according to the Mesa County Assessor’s Office. That possibility became less likely Thursday night after the District 51 School Board decided to hear on March 27 a resolution that would send some Shelledy Elementary students who live in south Fruita to Broadway Elementary School to alleviate overcrowding at Shelledy and help fill sparsely populated Broadway. If the resolution passes, the district would not be able to send a majority of Scenic’s students to Broadway, which was the tentative plan for dispersing Scenic’s population if it closed.
New Emerson and Dual Immersion Academy’s elementary school and middle school have been discussed as possible closure sites. New Emerson’s property is valued at slightly more than $2 million, according to the Assessor’s Office, and Dual Immersion’s property, combined with Riverside Educational Center’s property, is worth $3.63 million. Dual Immersion’s middle school program is housed in an addition to Bookcliff Middle School.
District administration offices also have been discussed as possible sites for closure. DeVita said the district is evaluating how much it could save by consolidating some of the district’s administration buildings. Currently, Nutrition Services has its own building at 2280 E. Main St., and central administration is spread between four properties: the Emerson Building, 930 Ute Ave.; the Hawthorne Building, 410 Hill Ave.; the Basil T. Knight Center, 2523 Patterson Road; and a main administration campus at 2115 Grand Ave.
The Basil T. Knight Center is the most likely administrative building to go, but its property value of $619,930 is well below that of most schools. Thirty-five people work at the center and may be moved to other buildings if it closes.
A school property can be a tough sell, according to Bob Reece, owner of Advanced Title Company, because the properties are often large and located in residential areas. Plus, a school would need remodeling to turn it into a something like a retail center or other residential-conducive operation.
“Sometimes it makes more sense to level the building. In that case, the land is more valuable than the building,” Reece said.
A developer hoping to plan ahead for a time when residential construction may boom again could take advantage of a school property sale, Reece said.
“If the market was hot for a new subdivision, one might argue you could take the building off and build a subdivision. There could be a market for that in three to five years, not today,” he said.
It is difficult to estimate how much the district’s properties are worth in total because some records have not been updated on the tax-exempt properties. But available Assessor’s Office records show the district’s property is worth at least upwards of $235 million.
Although their closures have not been discussed as real possibilities, the district’s high school and middle school properties are worth the most, according to the Assessor’s Office. Grand Junction High School’s property has the highest value of any District 51 property at $17.1 million. Every high school property in the district is worth at least eight figures.
At $15.6 million, Bookcliff Middle School is the priciest middle school setting, followed closely by Grand Mesa Middle School. Pear Park Elementary School, with an assessed value of $8.3 million, is the ninth-most expensive property in the district and has the highest property value of any District 51 elementary school.
Vacant land has the least property value. DeVita said the district purchases school land based on where city and county planning departments expect growth.
“We have to buy pretty large parcels” to fit schools, DeVita said. “If we wait for development, those large parcels aren’t going to be available.”
DeVita said the district in particular would like to hold onto two potential school sites in Fruita and potential high school sites in Appleton and Orchard Mesa because of projected growth in those areas.
In the end, DeVita said the District 51 School Board will have to make the value judgment on properties.
“I can tell them what things cost and what savings will be. I can’t tell them what value to place on those decisions,” she said.