Missoula County Public Schools trustees took the next steps to approve the sale of two parcels of land near Sentinel High School for $850,000 at a Tuesday board meeting.
The parcels of land, known as the Homevale property, are currently used for equipment storage and were deemed unusable for the district.
“The process to make this decision was to say ‘It’s a piece of land, we’re never going to put a school on it, we don’t intend to continue to use it for storage, it has no appropriate purpose for the school district so it would be a good reason to sell it,’” said MCPS spokeswoman Hatton Littman.
The money from the sale will go to the district’s building fund, which pays for projects that are not funded by bonds. Littman said a significant amount of revenue from the Homevale sale will go to renovate an existing building, which is know by the community as the old Missoula College site on South Avenue. Once renovated, it will house the staff who currently work in the MCPS Administration Building and the MCPS Business Building in one location.
Littman said the process the district used to sell the Homevale parcel wouldn’t apply the same way to other parcels with school buildings on them.
Under state law, there are only two ways trustees can sell a property held as a public asset by a school district: if it is about to be abandoned, or deemed undesirable or unsuitable for the school purposes of the district.
Trustee Grace Decker said the district put a lot of consideration into the process of moving a public property into private hands.
“I’m just hoping that people who have been following along breathlessly at home on this whole process really feel reassured that the process has been taken with a lot of deliberation,” Decker said.
At a September board meeting when trustees discussed initial steps for the sale or leasing of the property, Missoula resident Robert Cole expressed concern that selling district properties could become a trend.
“If you did sell it, I would like to see the money not go into the general fund,” Cole said then. “I’d like to see it go into a trust of some sort so that it puts a check and balance on you guys so that you just don’t sell properties or whatever just to use in a quick turnover in your general fund.”
At the Tuesday meeting, Decker said the Homevale sale is a one-off decision. ”It’s specific to this one property that really hasn't been used for school purposes, that given all of its characteristics, it’s really not going to be used as a school in the future,” she said. “It’s not about a trend of what this board is interested in doing.”
The district only received an offer from one candidate, and trustee Diane Lorenzen said the initial offer and final selling price were lower than she expected.
“We were a little bit surprised to only get one proposal but I think it might indicate that we better sell now or we’re going to hold onto this for a really long time,” Lorenzen said. “We hoped for a million so this was a little less than they were hoping for but I think it’s a good offer at a good time for us.”
The Homevale parcel will be sold for $850,000 to a new entity to be formed by Kelly Gill, Nate Richmond, Mike Basile and Dan Ermatinger, pending the board’s final approval.
The offer to purchase the property does not limit it to a specific use, although the buyers are still subject to zoning restrictions, said Pat McHugh, MCPS director of business and operations.
Littman said no other properties are currently for sale or on the agenda, although she said discussions regarding other property sales may be coming up.
The district currently owns several properties that are mostly unused, including 20 acres of undeveloped land on 55th Street and Whitaker Drive, as well as a 5-acre property adjacent to Linda Vista Park.
Littman said these properties may be considered for sale since the district is unlikely to build a school on them
MCPS also owns the Mount Jumbo School building and the Prescott School building, which Littman said would not be sold because they have school buildings on them.
Lorenzen said she hopes community members will bring any questions or concerns to the board.
The buy/sell agreement for the Homevale property will come before the board once negotiations are complete.