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MCPS administration building

Missoula County Public Schools officials are reviving a conversation to see what district property they could get rid of to put some extra change in the budget.

At the school board meeting Feb. 28, executive director of business and operations Pat McHugh explained to the trustees how the district could sell district property.

In all, MCPS owns more than 30 properties, three of which are undeveloped and being considered for sale:

  • Linda Vista: a 15-acre site near Marilyn Park that at one point was considered for the new Cold Springs School. 
  • Homevale (Casaloma): a building on South Avenue across the street from Sentinel High that's currently used for storage.
  • 55th Street/Heavens Gate: a 21-acre parcel near 55th and Whitaker in the South Hills that was donated to the district years ago.

None have schools on site, nor the potential for a school, Superintendent Mark Thane said last week. They also are not generating revenue for the district.

"If we're not building on it now, and we're not contemplating that in the future, why do we hold that asset?" Thane said Thursday.

The idea is that revenue from those sales could go into the building funds to fund projects outside of those resulting from the $158 million in bonds for school construction that passed in November 2015, so MCPS would "not have to go back to voters to ask them to fund those projects," Thane said at the meeting.

"We're not necessarily committing to yes or no on selling right now," Thane said last week. "And right now we're just looking at parcels unsuitable for a school."

He emphasized the discussions will not at this time include the future for any school buildings – such as the current Cold Springs School, which will be vacated after the new school is built; the Prescott School, which will be vacated once Missoula International School moves into its new building; and Mount Jumbo School, which is being used this year as a swing space for Lowell students while their school is being renovated.

Administration will bring a draft plan back to the board sometime in the future.

"We will likely put out an RFQ (request for qualifications) for a realtor, develop a list of realtors who might analyze the properties and determine if they appear to be marketable," Thane said.

***

There are two ways to sell or "convey" school district property, according to state statute:

  • Trustees can adopt a resolution to sell or dispose of district property if they determine it is "about to become abandoned, obsolete, undesirable or unsuitable" for the district's use; or
  • Trustees can call for an election, letting the voters decide on a ballot measure.

McHugh told trustees that the district likely would use the first option.

"If we couldn't fall within a resolution to sell, then we would look to an election," he said.

Passing a resolution – which would take effect 14 days after publication – would be a faster process than calling for an election, which must be noticed 70 days in advance. A resolution also would be cheaper, as the district would not have to pay for the county's election services.

A resolution also requires the district to specify what it will do with the proceeds of the sale.

In the case of a resolution, within those 14 days the public would have an opportunity to appeal. That objection would go to district court – which is what happened 12 years ago.

The district sold Roosevelt School to Missoula Catholic Schools in 2005 for $1.5 million. MCPS did so through an election – and the sale resulted in a lawsuit from Good Schools Missoula, which was eventually dismissed

Loyola paid $50,000 more than the property's appraised value, though the attorney for Good Schools Missoula said the property would have fetched more in Missoula's real estate market, accusing school trustees of violating their fiduciary responsibility.

Good Schools Missoula accused the district of selling the property to MCS in a "sweetheart deal."

The statute does not specify fair market value, McHugh pointed out.

"One of the pieces of rationale offered by the district court was you should have done a better job marketing it from a fair market value standpoint," he said. "That was not authoritative, it was part of the district court proceeding, but it's something I heard and took to heart. We do try to get the maximum value for the property."

In weighing a resolution versus an election, district counsel Megan Morris said it comes down to risk.

"You guys annually enter into a resolution to get rid of property. It's the same process you use to get rid of your desks and computers that are determined to be no longer needed," she said.

"What is the risk of having a challenge on this? ... Depending on the type of property, the risk is lower. If you're talking about the sale of a school, that is more likely where you might want to consider an election."

***

The conversations are getting underway as the district is taking back property from Missoula College.

On Friday, the Montana Board of Regents voted unanimously to transfer property of the old Missoula College at 909 South Ave. back to MCPS. The transfer will officially happen once the college moves into its new building on East Broadway.

For the past three decades, the college has used the property – which was originally built by MCPS – for vocational education. It sits behind the district's business building on South Avenue, next to Sentinel High School.

The transfer also brings up another conversation that the district had years ago when it was examining facilities for the November 2015 bond measure: combining administrative offices at one location. Currently, it's split between the business building on South Avenue and the administration building on South Sixth Street West.

The administration building is one of the oldest in the district, and it's not ADA-accessible, which is "unacceptable," Thane said.

In 1990, the city of Missoula, on behalf of the Missoula Children's Theatre, bought the former Central School from MCPS for $300,000.

Prescott School is currently being leased by Missoula International School for $60,000 a year, though MIS is redeveloping the former Hive on South Third Street for its new school.

Central Baptist Church bought Lincoln School from MCPS in the early 1990s for $80,000. It was sold to a real estate developer a decade ago for $800,000, and today is being developed into condominiums.

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