The Wichita school district plans to buy property at the northwest corner of 13th and Waco — the site of a former Dillons grocery store — to expand the North High School campus, officials said Friday.
School board members are expected to vote Monday on a $2 million deal to buy the property, which is owned by RM 5DK Corp., a Delaware-based investment company.
Martin Libhart, the district's chief of operations, said officials "have been considering several uses (for the property), but we've made no decision yet."
One plan is to renovate the former grocery store and use it to expand North High's technical education programs, including its automotive technology program, he said. The 4-acre property also could provide much-needed parking for the school, he said.
"We've always been interested in that property from the minute it became available," Libhart said. "We are just really, seriously impacted at North with limited land area."
At 26 acres, North High is the district's smallest high school campus, Libhart said. Most others range from 56 to more than 160 acres. West High sits on about 35 acres.
Dillons closed the 44,000-square-foot store just east of North High in 2008 and relocated to 21st and Amidon. The move angered many Midtown residents, who said the store's closing was especially hard on low-income and elderly residents.
The empty lot and unoccupied building are a "detriment to the community," said City Council member Janet Miller, whose district includes the school and store site.
Adding the facility to the school would make an "even more vibrant school," she said. "That, in turn, helps the neighborhood."
Miller said there are "many in the neighborhood who would like to see it become a grocery store again. That also would be a wonderful use."
But it's unlikely that another grocery would locate there without a significant tax incentive or subsidy, she said. The City Council recently refused a similar subsidy for a proposed grocery store in Planeview.
The appraised value of the property, according to Sedgwick County tax records, is about $1.2 million. According to the commercial real estate website LoopNet, it was listed at $4.5 million.
Libhart said district officials have been working on the deal for more than a year. "We're buying it at a very good price," he said.
Libhart said the money to buy the property would come from the district's capital outlay fund.
Part of the $370 million bond issue voters approved in 2008 called for nearly doubling North High's technical education building, which sits between the school and the Dillons building. Renovating the old grocery store and "constructing some sort of connecting link" to the school annex may cost less than expanding the building, he said.
Officials must first decide, though, where to locate another key element of the 2008 bond issue: a proposed $10 million technical education magnet high school.
"We wouldn't want to duplicate a lot of offerings at multiple schools," Libhart said. "We're stepping up the planning a little bit on the tech-ed magnet concept so we can make some decisions."
About $17 million of the $370 million bond issue voters approved in 2008 was marked for technical education — $1 million for each of the district's seven comprehensive high schools and $10 million for the new magnet program.
"Just the land itself is of value to us," Libhart said. "Our preference would not be to demolish the building and use it for parking, but that certainly is an option.... Right now, this decision hinges on what happens with a lot of other decisions."