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Wichita developer to ask school board to cancel contract to buy Mueller

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, June 22, 2013, at 10:24 a.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, at 2:53 p.m.

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A developer will ask the Wichita school board on Monday to void his contract to buy the former Mueller Elementary because a neighborhood agreement prevents him for using the property for anything but school or single-family residential purposes.

The board then will be asked to approve a contract to sell Mueller, 2821 E. 24th St. North, for $40,000 to Christian Faith Centre, which plans to use it for a private school.

District officials recommend that the one contract be voided and the other approved, according to a district document.

Mark Cox, owner of Vintage Construction in Wichita, had the winning bid of $56,000 to purchase the property during a mid-February auction. Christian Faith Centre had the second-highest bid at $55,000.

The board voted on March 11 to approve the sale of Mueller to Vintage Construction. Mueller was one of five Wichita schools closed in spring 2012.

Cox said at the time that he planned to convert the property into multi-family housing.

He said Friday that he later learned that a neighborhood covenant prevented him from doing that. In order to get an exception to the covenant, he would have to get approval of more than half of the neighborhood’s 300 residents.

“I’m not suggesting anyone was trying to hide anything,” Cox said. “It just wasn’t discovered. I didn’t want to move forward like it was.”

The neighborhood is zoned for single-family residential. Cox said he talked to City Council Member Lavonta Williams about changing the zoning to allow multi-family housing.

“But she can’t change covenants,” he said.

A district document said, “It would be difficult, if not impossible, to obtain consent from enough property owners to remove the covenants.”

The document also said the covenants greatly restrict the use and market value of the Mueller property.

A hail storm on May 19 caused $250,000 damage to Mueller’s roof, the district document said. Cox said the hail damage had nothing to do with his decision.

The hail damage prompted Christian Faith Centre to lower the amount it was willing to pay from its bid of $55,000 to $40,000.

“Based on the damage to the roof and based on the covenant,” the district document said, “the $40,000 represents fair market value.”

Sedgwick County’s appraised value of Mueller at the time of the February auction was $1.7 million. The county’s website showed Friday that the value had fallen to $373,100.

The 78 percent drop came after county appraisal officials conducted a review of the property this spring.

“They discovered that the school had closed,” spokeswoman Amanda Matthews said in an e-mail, “so they changed the physical and functional ratings on the buildings to reflect current status. The $1.7 million was the value for a fully functional and operating elementary school.”

Mueller, which was built in 1952, includes a 57,100-square-foot building and about four acres in surrounding property.

In 2003, the district spent nearly $1.2 million to upgrade the infrastructure at Mueller and renovate its library, district officials have said.

Wade Moore, pastor at Christian Faith Centre, said he had no intention of bidding on Mueller when he went to the February auction.

“But when I saw where the bidding was, I decided to go for it,” he said. “The other guy just outbid me. I had reached my limit. I was hoping something would happen so the building would come back to us.”

Moore said he would use the property for some type of private Christian school. He said he wasn’t sure what the age range would be for the school or if it would be used only for tutoring students.

“We’re very excited,” Moore said. “We want to do something there to help the kids. They’re falling behind and the drop-out rate for African-American children is too high.

“We need to do something to benefit them. We also want to use it as a campus to extend our ministry into north Wichita.”

He said he’s not concerned about the $250,000 estimate to fix the roof. After taking a contractor to inspect the roof, he said, “We can cut that cost way down by doing our own labor.”

School board member Betty Arnold, whose district includes Mueller, said it appears Moore’s offer would satisfy requirements.

“If it’s a good fit for the neighborhood and it brings a positive presence,” she said, “it’s a win-win situation. Hopefully, the community will embrace the plans that the new buyer has.”

Arnold said it was also important that the district unload the property soon.

In March, Wichita superintendent John Allison told the board the district had spent $62,000 on utilities, maintenance and security for Mueller since it was closed in May 2012. He said at the time that mothballing it long-term would cost the district between $40,000 and $100,000 a year.

“When you have a property that costs you more to keep than it does to sell it, that doesn’t make good business sense,” Arnold said.

The termination agreement requires Cox’s $5,600 earnest money be sent to the school district.

The proposed contract that Moore signed June 7 called for a July 1 closing date, but Moore said he picked up a revised contract on Friday that pushed the closing date to Aug. 1 so the district would have time fix vandalism damage, including broken windows.

“It’s a cash deal,” Moore said. “We want to close as soon as we can and get started.”

Reach Rick Plumlee at 316-268-6660 or rplumlee@wichitaeagle.com.

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