The Urbana Board of Education met in special session on Thursday to deliberate the sale of North Elementary and South Elementary to the City of Urbana, with the board ultimately deciding to authorize the sale.
As previously reported in the Daily Citizen, the two buildings will be bundled with the former Douglas Hotel by the city and sold to Indiana-based developer Flaherty & Collins, with the Champaign Economic Partnership acting as an agent. Flaherty & Collins will then turn the buildings into affordable senior housing.
“This is a purchase and sale agreement, in its substantive form, which will allow for minor changes. This is a resolution to sell the properties to the city of Urbana. This piece of it isn’t the big sale to the developer. This is to get it in the hands of the city so that the transaction can take place through the CEP,” Treasurer Mandy Hildebrand said.
Board member Jim Arter was concerned about a number of potential issues with the agreement and with the process, interrogating CEP’s Marcia Bailey about different scenarios.
Several contingencies are in place to ensure the district will be finished with the schools, including that the new building is completed and occupied on time and that the developer secures funding for the project. Flaherty & Collins will find out in May if they’ve been granted the historic tax credits that they’ve sought for the redevelopment.
“There is no sale transaction until all the domino effects happen. This is paper flow right now. We’ll know the funding status in May, then we can start the process of closing,” Bailey said. “Which I think is within 60 days. Which, in essence, would give us time for students to be out of the building.”
Even if the building change gets delayed for some reason and students aren’t able to begin in the new PK-8 building until after the first part of 2019, the process would still work, according to Flaherty & Collins representative Drew Rosenbarger, who was at the meeting.
“Most of the time when we work on buildings, they’ve been vacant for a very long time. This is going to be a 2019 start, at the earliest. We can delay the start of construction,” Rosenbarger said. “These buildings are absolutely spectacular compared to some of the ones we’ve worked on.”
Arter was also concerned with the financial proceeds and how they’d be split. For now, the school stands to make an earnest dollar for each building – or $2. But the main concern for the district has always been getting out from under the properties with no money spent.
“There is an agreed price that was agreed to (Thursday) afternoon between Flaherty & Collins and the school district,” Bailey explained. “The city would get the check, because they’re the ones selling the property. They would deduct their cost incurred, I get costs that I’ve incurred from CEP and then a 3 percent add-in cost to CEP, and then the remaining comes to the school board.”
Bailey added she’d spent about $2,700 so far in legal fees. The price agreement in place is for $354,000, according to Hildebrand.
The board also granted a trio of leave without pay requests during the meeting and a few personnel recommendations by the superintendent. They also updated the district’s Wellness Policy to align with state and federal law – all unanimously.
The leave without pay requests offered an interesting schism for the board – one that may result in policy changes at some point.
“I understand we’re wanting to move to having a structure and a policy for this. I can’t remember anytime in the past year, any board meeting, where we didn’t have a request for leave without pay on the agenda,” said Vice President Darrell Thomas. “As a school district, it is important to have our teachers in the classroom, teaching. We can get a substitute up to speed, but a substitute is not going to have that intimate relationship with the students. I just want us to be careful with our policy where we don’t paint ourselves into a corner.”
Julie Chamberlin-Huber requested five days without pay to take a vacation with her family before her military husband carried out his change of station orders, according to an e-mail received by the board from Mr. Huber.
“The e-mail we got was very professional, he understood what was going on,” President Jan Engle said. “We’re doing something that is kind of borderline here. You’re not supposed to take vacation, the contract says you can’t do this. Even though I want them to do it. Whenever anything comes up with a serviceman or military, I’m all for that.”
The request came because according to the contract between the district and the teachers’ union, personal days may not be used for vacation.
“I guess my feeling in this case is there are some extreme extenuating circumstances,” Amy Paul said. “With a permanent change of station coming, I understand this request. At the end of the day, you can make policy, you can have recommendations, but we are a service provider and you’re dealing with a lot of people. It’s a case-by-case basis sometimes. You can have your policy, but you can have times when you have to be willing to look at it.”
Another leave without pay request came from Jay Keely, who is preparing to serve a 10-day jail sentence. His request was for three-and-a-half days, with his personal leave being exhausted for the rest.
“If he has to serve his entire sentence, this would be the end of that,” Superintendent Charles Thiel explained. “He believes that out of the 10 days, he may only be required to spend five days.”
Discussion followed the motion to approve, with each of the board members expressing concerns about the situation. Thiel explained an alternative to approval would be to deny the request and then go through the process of addressing the absences as job abandonment.
“There’s nothing in the contract that addresses this. He’s availing himself of his remaining personal time. It’s not necessarily allowed. It’s not any more allowed than taking a vacation. Vacation is spelled out non-use for this time. Serving jail time is not spelled out in the contract in any way,” Thiel said.
The third leave request came from Nathan Long, who requested March 2 off to attend the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus.
Because Long owns and operates a CrossFit business in addition to being a teacher, his attendance at the festival would not be permitted under personal leave, because he could profit from the festival.
Following those deliberations, the board also entered into executive session to discuss personnel matters.