Mandan News

Wilfred Volesky: Sale of the old junior high

On Nov. 30, a Committee to Sell the Old Junior High met to review the only proposal received by the Nov. 23 deadline. The proposal was from CommunityWorks ND and MetroPlains. This group has worked together previously on several projects such as the Beulah School House Apartments and the recent construction of the Lakewood Townhomes. They specialize in the renovation of old facilities, such as school facilities, into affordable housing projects.

The proposal submitted by this group plans to preserve the 1924 core southern building of the original junior high. This part of the building would be renovated into 16 senior apartments. The plan further  proposes to demolish the remaining buildings to allow for new construction of 12 townhomes for families, a community room for use by the development’s residents and considerable green space including play areas. Parking for residents would be available in various locations on the perimeter of the property. The development partners requested to buy the property for $1 in return for an estimated investment of $5.3 million in renovation and construction on the property. Of these costs, the demolition is expected to be about $500,000.

After listening to a review of the renovation and construction plans by CommunityWorks Multi-Family Program Director Rob Knoll, the committee felt that the project would fill a need for affordable housing in the Mandan Community. Committee members directed a variety of questions to Director Knoll regarding the application, the sources of revenue necessary to complete the project, whether the land and facilities would ever be placed on the tax rolls and when they planned to take possession of the property.

Committee members also wanted to know the proposed timeline for the project. Knoll explained that they will apply for funding in January 2012. They will be notified in March 2012 if they receive funding. If the project is funded, construction will begin in July 2012 with construction being completed by August 2013. The apartments and townhomes would be open for occupancy in September 2013.

After a lengthy discussion on the project, the committee decided to recommend to the Mandan School Board and the Mandan City Commission that they approve the project. The committee voted with 4 in favor and 1 member abstaining to recommend approval of the proposal. This recommendation was addressed at the Dec. 5 school board meeting and the Dec. 6 city commission meeting.

As a Mandan patron, you may have some concern about the sale of the property for $1. It would seem as though the property would certainly be more valuable than $1. From the school district perspective, the sale of the property for $1 was a fair offer. If the school district was not able to sell the property or find some use for the facility, it would not take very long before deterioration of the buildings would occur. The old junior high could become a blemish in the community within a short period of time, especially since the building is no longer being heated and little use is being made of the facility. To eliminate this blemish, the school district may find it necessary to demolish the buildings. The school district at one time did inquire about demolishing the facility and we were told it would cost in excess of $500,000 to do so.  Considering the demolition costs, the sale of the facility for $1 does become a fair offer.

At the present time, since the school district owns the property there are no taxes paid on the property. If CommunityWorks and MetroPlains do become the new owners of the property, they will need to pay property taxes just like any other entity in the future. It is likely that the potential purchasers will seek some tax abatements on the renovation and construction done on the property. If the abatements are allowed, once the abatements end the owners of the junior high property will be paying property taxes on the property which will benefit the Mandan community.

In order for CommunityWorks and MetroPlains to be funded, they need to have site control of the property. This will be accomplished through a development agreement or a memorandum of understanding that grants development rights with a specified time period to secure financing and to close on the acquisition of the property. If the potential buyers would be denied funding, the school board understands that they would continue to retain ownership of the old junior high.

It is my hope that CommunityWorks and MetroPlains are funded. This project would help ease the need for affordable housing in our community. I also believe it would be an attractive project that would have a positive effect on the families living near the old junior high. Past experience has proven that there is not a great deal of interest in the old junior facility.

So I am hopeful that funding will be awarded to the potential buyers and they will begin construction of the project this summer.