School has potential, but which use?

Wednesday, February 4, 2004

Along with Commissioners Leigh Hoyt and Steve Downer, we agree that the former West Ward School property is not the best site for a new county-city jail facility.

For one thing, the square block of space is not big enough for a joint jail facility for McCook and Red Willow County, and, for another, the property is in a residential area.

But while the former school property is not the most appropriate place for a jail, it does have potential for other uses. Among the possibilities that come to mind are office space, a day care center and apartments, although rentals would probably require extensive remodeling to conform with housing codes and handicapped accessibility rules.

The listing price for the former school building and the grounds is $75,000. The school is asking an additional $12,000 for the white modular building which was used for additional classroom space.

According to McCook's superintendent of schools, Dr. Don Marchant, there have been inquiries about the property, with interest shown by agencies and individuals other than the county.

That's encouraging. The school property is in a convenient location for business firms and governmental agencies and the building has been well maintained by the school district.

The first and best option would be for a business or an agency to acquire the former West Ward property. For the amount of building space and grounds that are available, the cost per square foot would be negligible, comparable if not lower than other prime property in the community.

Even so, there has to be a need for purchasers to come forth. Otherwise, why go to the expense of taking on a property obligation?

The Board of Education has set Monday, March 1, as the deadline for accepting proposals for purchase of the property. A week later, on March 8, the board will announce whether or not it will accept what is deemed the best offer.

Hopefully, a useful purpose for the property can be found. If no bona fide offers are received, it might then be beneficial for the school to enter into negotiations with the city, who could use the square block as parking for events at McCook Memorial Auditorium, which is located across the street.

The former school building, which is handicapped accessible, might even be a better place for the city offices, which are now located down a flight of stairs on the south side of the auditorium.

Oh, well. So much to consider. But, as we said earlier, the best option would be for a willing buyer to step forward and offer to purchase the school property for private development. That way, the school district would doubly benefit, gaining funds to help with the school's operating costs, and, at the same time, returning a piece of property to the tax rolls.

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