District to vote on land deal for new SE school

After a one-month delay, Wichita school board members are set to vote tonight on a land deal that would buy property for the new southeast high school.

It's the same deal that could allow a commercial development in front of Northwest High School at 13th and Tyler.

School officials reviewed another land-buy option that didn't involve selling the land at Northwest, but the original proposal still seemed the best option, said Martin Libhart, chief operations officer.

"The board just wanted to be sure we've done our due diligence," he said. "Concern had arisen about the 13th and Tyler option."

The board voted to table the recommended land deal on Dec. 14 after several Northwest parents opposed selling property in front of their school to Wichita-based Occidental Management. Board members said there was additional information they wanted reviewed.

Libhart said that information was the other land offer, which would have cost the district the same as the land from Occidental — $1.56 million — but for less acreage. Occidental's 125 acres near Pawnee and 127th Street East would leave room for an elementary school in the future, but the other land wouldn't, he said.

Plus, Libhart said, the other lot would cost the district more to put in utility extensions and street paving.

Libhart said he didn't want to identify the other location considered for the new high school or its owner.

"Our original proposal is still the best proposal and is cheaper in the long run," he said.

Board president Barbara Fuller said she is confident about administrators' recommendation this time around.

"We've been working on this a long time," she said of the deal that started about a year ago.

Local Realtors criticized the deal last month, saying the school district would be paying top-dollar for Occidental's land while Occidental could buy the Northwest land from the district for half its value.

Libhart said the district negotiated a fair price for the land for the new high school. Appraisals of undeveloped property can vary greatly depending on what use is planned for the land, and he said schools are considered a "special use" that could raise the property's value 70 percent above market value.

He said the district received three appraisals on the 12-acre Northwest property, with the sale price to Occidental falling about in the middle.

Libhart said it's not certain Occidental will purchase the land, but the company has one year to decide whether to do so.

Occidental's original proposal for commercial development of the land fell through, and another developer would have to commit before Occidental would buy the land.

If Occidental chooses to buy the land, the money would be added to the district's capital budget, which Libhart said was cut by $4.6 million in state aid this school year.

Capital money supplements many projects in the $370 million bond issue plan voters passed last year that includes the new southeast high school.

If Occidental doesn't buy the land, Libhart said he doesn't know if the Northwest land would be for sale. It would depend on the proposal and how much capital money the district needed, he said.

Northwest Site Council chairman Dave Depew said he has received more details about the sale since he was surprised by it in December, but he said he is still concerned about the future of the property in front of his son's high school.

"There is probably no recourse for the Site Council or community at this point," said Depew, who plans to attend tonight's board meeting.

"I am unsure, at this point, what will happen if the developer declines to exercise the option. Will the board offer the land for sale on the open market or will the issue just go away?"

The delay in the land deal is not expected to slow construction or completion of the new southeast high school, which Libhart said is scheduled to open in fall 2013.