By ERIC BARTON
Last week, The Pitch published this story criticizing the Kansas City, Missouri, School District for failing to sell its abandoned schools. School administrators now say they're ready to act — but not everybody likes how they're going about it.
At its August 27 meeting, the school board will consider a resolution to sell off at least three schools that have been empty for as long as two decades. On the chopping block are Bancroft, Switzer/Old West and Norman School.
The three have garnered many offers over the years from developers who see their potential. Switzer/Old West's location, on the West Side, and Norman School, in the center of the Valentine neighborhood, make them prime targets for future condos. And Bancroft, in a well-kept East Side neighborhood, seems a likely spot for apartments or senior housing.
But instead of listing the schools for sale through a real estate agent, the board is now considering auctioning off at least Norman and Switzer. That doesn't sit well with some neighbors of the schools.
Critics say the district could get more money by putting them up for sale. The school board could also better scrutinize buyers to be sure they don't sell to prospectors who would let the schools fall into further disrepair as they wait for higher prices. If the properties were sold through a traditional contract, the board could insert covenants that require the developer to maintain the buildings and develop them within a set time period.
However, Matt Levi, with Block & Co., which has been hired by the board to sell the schools, says auctioning them would be quicker and easier. Selling the schools without an auction could take months or years as developers seek zoning changes from the city before the sales close. And adding covenants could lengthen the process further, Levi says.
When the school board meets next Wednesday, there may be more abandoned buildings on the for-sale list. School district administrators presented this list of five schools to the board's Finance and Audit Committee on Monday. It's unclear whether they, too, will end up being auctioned.
The full list will be presented to the school board next week at its 5 p.m. meeting on August 27. However, the board has previously discussed the surplus buildings in closed session and will likely do so again. This Missouri law allows the board to discuss real estate matters behind closed doors only "where public knowledge of the transaction might adversely affect the legal consideration" of the sale.
School board member Airick Leonard West said the sale of the schools may be far from finalized, even if it does appear that the board is finally going to act.
"The more the public is paying attention, the less likely there is for a logjam," West said. "But stuff gets started at the district every day. The issue is whether it gets finished."