July 30, 2012

Booth Elementary auction set for Tuesday

Wichita school district officials hope a vacant school building in southeast Wichita soon will belong to someone else.

Wichita school district officials hope a vacant school building in southeast Wichita soon will belong to someone else.

The former Booth Elementary School, 5920 E. Mount Vernon, will go up for auction at noon Tuesday as the district looks to get rid of some of its surplus properties.

“There has been some interest in the property. … There have been some preliminary showings,” said Julie Hedrick, the district’s director of facilities.

Hedrick would not specify who has expressed interest in the school, adding only that “the interested market is nonprofits and developers.”

Some residents of the surrounding neighborhood say they are concerned that the school might be sold to a developer who could turn it into a halfway house or drug treatment center.

Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Skelton, who can see the Booth property from his house across the Gypsum Creek, said he hopes district officials make good on their pledge to refuse potential buyers whose plans “may not make sense for the neighborhood.”

“People are concerned,” said Skelton, president of the East Mount Vernon Neighborhood Association. “That building has been vacant for quite some time, and … we’re all really watching what’s happening.

“Ideally we’d like for them to look at something that would be positive for this neighborhood and end up being a part of the neighborhood.”

Booth Elementary was built in 1954. In 1990 it became Booth Early Childhood Center, with kindergarten and pre-K programs. It closed in 2003 when its students were moved to nearby Allen Elementary, which was expanded as part of the district’s 2000 bond issue.

Since then the district has used Booth for storage. The 21,000-square-foot building and surrounding property, about 2.5 acres, are zoned single-family residential.

An advertisement for the property on the J.P. Weigand & Sons website calls the former school a “great redevelopment opportunity or possible church.” Interior photographs show hallways still decorated with children’s handprints.

The former school is one of several in the district’s inventory. Other vacant buildings include Blackbear Bosin Academy (formerly Price Elementary) in a neighborhood near 13th and Woodlawn, and Longfellow Elementary, 2116 S. Main, which the district keeps for emergencies.

Four more elementaries – Bryant, Emerson, Lincoln and Mueller – closed in May as part of cost-cutting measures related to new school boundaries.

Hedrick said Tuesday’s auction, to be held on-site, is “an experiment” to see what the market might be for other surplus properties.

“We have several properties right now that we don’t have active schools in, and there are going to need to be some decisions made about those in the future,” she said.

The district has the right to refuse any potential buyer, Hedrick said. A final sale would require board action.

“Just because someone is the high bidder doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the board will actually move through the process to closing,” she said.

Asked whether any developers were eyeing the former school for a halfway house, drug treatment center or similar facility, Hedrick said, “I think we just need to cross those bridges when we come to them.

“My understanding is there have been several interested parties,” she said.… “The district is interested in selling the property, but it’s not a done deal until the board votes.

“It’s always been our intention to be good neighbors in regard to keeping up properties as they’re closed. And another piece of being a good neighbor is to be responsible in the sale.”

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