Late last Tuesday, Sunset Empire Park and Recreation District board members emerged from a closed executive session to reject a potential purchase deal for Broadway Middle School.
Acquisition of the building and property at the intersection of Broadway and U.S. Highway 101, with its proximity to the Sunset Pool and facilities, would “expand the opportunity for district residents and guests to participate in recreation programs,” executive director Skyler Archibald wrote in a business plan.
Zoned partially residential and partially commercial, the 3-acre property contains the 73,000-square-foot school building, along with the Seaside Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau building and public restrooms, on land leased to the city by the school district.
The purchase could provide space for current programs and revenue streams for community programs that serve families such as after-school care, summer camp, “Start Smart” sports, the farmers market and basketball, Archibald said at the meeting.
Draft terms presented a combined $2 million offer to the Seaside School District, which is marketing the property for $2.9 million after a 30% price drop in February. The park and rec district would have been responsible for half and a partner would have carried the other half.
Even at a reduced price, board members said the school was “no bargain,” presenting liability and ongoing maintenance issues.
“It’s got asbestos in it,” John Chapman said. “And it’s got lead paint in there. You’re moving forward knowing that you are putting yourself in a liability position. It’s got to be a part of your consideration.”
Board president Jeremy Mills said utilities, manpower and rehabilitation of the middle school building would add to expenses, especially during an economic downturn to the coronavirus pandemic.
“With the economy the way it is, you’re going to be very hard-pressed to find anybody in our community who wants to jump out on a $2 million loan,” Mills said. “There’s no responsibility to it.”
Agreements under review
Along with discussion of the school proposal at the meeting, the district’s 2020-21 budget of just under $3.24 million received approval, but not before board members added an amendment to withhold $1,000 directed to two community gardens pending future discussions.
“Do I see value in the gardens?” Mills asked. “But my No. 1 concern is protection of park and rec.”
The less involvement the district has with the gardens, “the better, especially with money,” he added.
An agreement with the city for the upkeep of Broadway Field will also be reviewed, as board members balked at paying field upkeep and replacement funds in their joint deal with the school district and city.
Board members proposed limiting expenses to $1,000 a month for management and scheduling at Broadway Field, and to reject any work order over $3,000.
Another district intergovernmental agreement, with Seaside Kids Inc. and the city for a new batting cage facility on the field was “premature,” board members said. They asked for further discussion before committing to the district’s $2,400 share for monthly utilities.
But the board’s motion regarding Broadway Middle School could have the greatest impact on the community
“You have to walk away from something that is not smart and sensible,” Chapman said. “And Broadway School is not sensible in any way. I guarantee that school will still be sitting there in two years.”
“Let’s take the expansion process off the plate,” Mills added.
Members voted 3-2 to table a pursuit of the purchase of Broadway Middle School for at least one year. Mills, Chapman and Su Coddington voted on behalf of the motion and Katharine Parker and Michael Hinton voted against.
“I don’t like to draw a line in the sand like that,” Hinton said. “An opportunity may come tomorrow and we would have to say no.”
After the meeting, Mills said despite the vote, he still sees the need for more recreational opportunities in the community.
“As a father I would love some more programs for my boys, but as a businessman I have to be aware of the financial ramifications of these choices we face,” he said. “As a board member for SEPRD, my first and foremost concern will always be the betterment of our community in a responsible and intelligent manner, I cannot in good conscious spend the monies we are entrusted with in any manner I know is not prudent and respectful to those who are paying into the tax base. I will always honor this trust.”