Ironton schools put buildings up for sale

Published 10:53 am Monday, June 1, 2009

IRONTON — In the latest step to consolidate its students into the new facilities under construction, the Ironton City Schools District will auction off four soon-to-be vacant buildings and its board of education headquarters.

Besides its administrative home, the four schools that will go on the auction block are Whitwell Elementary, the Central School building, Lawrence Street School and West Ironton School. The open, ascending-price auction is scheduled for July 6.

Each of the five buildings varies in size, acreage and uses. All together, the buildings total more than 72,000 square feet on 3.98 acres of land.

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Kingsbury School is not part of the auction package. The South Sixth Street school building will become the new home for St. Lawrence Catholic School in the fall under a standing lease agreement the district has with the catholic parish.

The Lawrence Street School, which currently houses the Catholic elementary, is one of the buildings that could become the new home of the board of education should its headquarters sell in July and Lawrence Street School does not receive accepted bids.

For some years, ICS administrators have wanted to relocate the board offices out of its current administrative building for better confines.

Interest in the yet to-be-auctioned board of education building downtown could come from the county themselves for records storage, the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office for possible jail and operation expansions or both.

But should both the Board of Education and Lawrence Street School buildings sell, Ironton City Schools Superintendent Dean Nance said the board would have to “find a whole new place.”

If neither sold, Nance said the district could still move its headquarters to Lawrence Street School or stay put in its current locale.

Along with Tanks Memorial Stadium, the Conley Center is expected to be a big winner following the auction.

Nance said monies generated for the sale of any or all buildings would be directed towards improvements to facilities not covered under the facilities program that built the new schools.

A new bus garage to replace the armory the city currently rents for its fleet could also be on the receiving end of auction proceeds, Nance indicated.

The properties will be open for tours by appointment only. Nance, along with the board will conduct and supervise the auction.

The superintendent said the properties have received some interest following the passage of the city’s facilities bond issue in 2006.

Former school buildings have been renovated into a wide range of uses — from churches to office spaces to condominiums and apartments.

The district has the option to accept or decline bids on each property. Nance indicated that the starting reserve on each lot would be 50-percent of the appraised value.

“We want to be good stewards for the tax payers,” Nance said. “We are looking to get the appraisal price out of the buildings we sell.”

What price that could be is anyone’s guess based on the outcome of many building auctions. But what about a starting point for bidders? Surprisingly, that is also a guess.

Assessing the assessments

Like every piece of property in Lawrence County, a tax assessor from the Lawrence County Auditor’s office appraises each of the five buildings listed in the upcoming auction at least every six years.

The appraisal is made up of two separate components — the improvement or building value and the land or site value. The tax appraiser determines the value of the property for the purpose of apportioning the semi-annual taxes collected against school and county levies.

However, as a school district funded primarily on property taxes, ICS is exempt from paying property taxes on its own parcels.

But each building and parcel is still appraised by the county and that is where some of the water gets a little cloudy in terms of correct auction value for the five buildings being put up.

Two buildings in particular stand out — the Central School building and the West Ironton School.

According to records from auditor Ray T. Dutey, Central School was last assessed in 2004 with a land value of $87,120 and a building and improvements value of $2.251 million for a total combined appraised value of $2.339 million, nearly $500,000 more valuable since its previous assessment in 1998.

Same for West Ironton School.

In 2004, the land value of the North Third Street school was $96,700 with its building and improvements value at $969,480 for a combined appraised value of $1.066 million.

However, the school district is citing an appraised value of Central School’s property and building at only $550,000 with West Ironton School at only $125,000.

When asked about huge discrepancy, Nance said the district had their own independent contractor appraise the buildings recently and “were closer” than the county’s values.

Nance did not say whom the district used for their assessment.

The three other buildings were in the general ballpark in terms of comparable appraisal value between the county and the district’s numbers. Whitwell was appraised by the county at $324,000, while the district had the school at $350,000.

The board of education was listed at $308,650 by the county and $350,000 according to the district’s figures while Lawrence Street School had a county appraisal value of $491,000 while the district listed the property at $450,000.

Currently, Central School is used to house the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization’s Head Start program while West Ironton has been used for classes for kindergarten and first grade.

Nance did indicate that the CAO had shown interest in bidding on the Central building and that a church had shown interest in one of the buildings as well, but he did not identify the church or what building they were interested in.

The Auction Process

Like many open, ascending-price auctions, bidding is relatively easy.

On July 6 at 10 a.m., interested bidders will gather at the board of education’s main office. Each property will be placed up for bid with 50 percent of the appraised value as the opening bid.

Nance said he will serve as auctioneer and the board of education does have the right to reject any and all bids on any property should it find those unacceptable.

However, in this case a winning bid doesn’t always mean the property is transferred.

Following the auction, the board of education will gather in executive session at its regularly scheduled meeting to decide whether or not to accept the bid. If accepted, the board will be required to pass a resolution as to the acceptance and notify the winning bidder by written notification.

If a bid is accepted by the board, the winning bidder must present cash or a cashiers check to the district for 10 percent of the winning amount as “faithful performance.”

The winning bidder has 30 days to pay the remaining 90 percent, Nance said.

If the board decides to not accept a winning bid, they have the option to offer the property to another bid they deem acceptable, put the property back on the market or in the case of West Ironton and Whitwell, demolish the building and resell the land only.

The state facilities commission does offer a program where monies are available to demolish school buildings.

The state picks up 73 percent of the costs with the school district picking up the remaining 27 percent of the costs.

Nance said the district does have the money “set aside” should the district elect to go that route with West Ironton and Whitwell.

Like many auctions, all five buildings will be sold “as is” meaning the winning bidder will take possession of the building in its present condition.

Nance said items like desks and cabinets would be auctioned off to the general public at a date later this summer.