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Council Bluffs Schools has received offer on Madison Campus; views differ on whether to sell

Council Bluffs Schools has received offer on Madison Campus; views differ on whether to sell

The Council Bluffs Community School District has received an offer on the Madison Campus property, officials announced during a hearing on the property’s possible sale held Tuesday by the Board of Education and attended by dozens of residents.

The board plans to vote on whether to accept that offer during its Sept. 28 meeting.

The Madison Campus building -- formerly a Target store -- was purchased by the school district for $1.9 million in 2018 to use as a temporary school facility during the renovation of Kirn and Wilson Middle Schools, and a $4.4 million remodel of the facility was paid for with funds from a $37 million bond issue approved by voters on Sept. 11, 2018. Kirn students attended classes at the Madison Campus during the 2019-20 school year, and Wilson students had school there during the 2020-21 school year.

The 95,355-square-foot property is currently listed by Heartland Properties at $3.9 million.

John Jerkovich, a partner at Heartland, said the Menards project planned for the site of the former Mall of the Bluffs, has been “delayed drastically.” When the new Menards store is built, it will likely bring lots of traffic, including truck and semi traffic. That might limit the number of other potential buyers and might not make it a good place for a school, Jerkovich said.

“I think you’re going to see a very busy site out there,” he said. “I really see the building getting a different type of use.”

Jerkovich said the prospective buyer was a company that would put it on the tax rolls and create jobs. He declined to reveal the offer or the identity of the business.

The company has been in Omaha since 1979, said Jason James, his partner at Heartland Properties. It currently employs about 500 people and sells products throughout the Lower 48 states. If it acquires the Madison Campus property, it would hire about 68 employees for the Council Bluffs location, eventually expanding to up to 100. The jobs would offer compensation of $60,000 or more, with the average salary between $70,000 and $75,000, he said.

James said they had showed the prospective buyer properties in Omaha, but they were not interested in them.

“We’re not really moving forward anymore until we see how this comes out,” he said.

Options that have been discussed, if the district keeps the property, include using it to house Kanesville Alternative Learning Center, the Educational Service Center, meeting and training space and/or the district’s operations center and warehouse, said Corey Vorthmann, chief academic officer for the district. Repurposing the building would require some renovation, which would be an expense, along with maintenance and utilities, he said.

If the district sold the property, it could not pay off the general obligation bonds issued for the middle school and Madison Campus projects until 2027 but could put the proceeds in a fund and draw interest, said Dean Wilson, chief financial officer. If the district sold the property and continued to rent space in the Omni Centre Business Park for the Educational Service Center, it could save about $5.2 million, Wilson estimated.

Among others things, it would save the district having to pay for installation of a new roof and resurfacing of the parking lot in the next five to eight years, he said. It would also free up the property to be put back on the tax rolls and used by a business that would create jobs.

However, it would mean the district would have no place to serve as a temporary school if it decided to renovate the old Washington Elementary School building, which currently houses the Kanesville Learning Center, or if another building were damaged in a storm or other disaster, he said.

During public participation, the first woman to speak said the district had led voters to believe they would keep the Madison Campus building after the middle school renovations were finished.

“We will remember what you told us,” she said.

John Metz, the next speaker, said he thought it would be better if the property were used by someone else.

“I think we can sell that and pay off some of our debt,” he said. “You need to run this school like a business, not like a handout.”

Jack Hamilton said he had read in the public notices how much the district is paying to rent space at the Omni – about $20,800 per month – and was hoping it would move its offices to the Madison Campus.

“If you take that $20,000 a month for 10 years, we could do a lot with that,” he said. “You could lay a lot of pavement for $20,000 a month.”

Hamilton said the district could avoid an expensive remodel by removing a few walls and putting in cubicles, like those in the ESC. He said he hadn’t thought about traffic but didn’t think ESC staff would have any trouble.

Heidi Petro felt strongly that Kanesville Learning Center should be moved to the Madison Campus.

“You have alternative learning center students in a building that is full of asbestos, and that’s why you moved the elementary kids out of it,” she said. “It’s not your building, it’s our building. We pay every six months on our property taxes.

“It’s time you started realizing this is not for a buck, but for our children,” Petrow said. “Children are not for sale.”

That prompted cheers and applause from the other attendees.

Brittnee Hamann, a substitute-teacher, spoke next.

“When I go and visit all those different buildings, I had the privilege to sub at Kanesville,” she said. “There’s holes in the wall, there’s cracks in the floor. These kids deserve better.”

She also got applause.

Many of the Kanesville students are going through tough times at home and working outside of school, Hamann said. Yet, they are staying in school and trying to make a better life. And the Washington building, unlike others in the district, is not secure, she said.

“You have staff members there … that feel abandoned,” she said. “You have students that feel neglected.”

Brian Haney said, if it saves the district money, they should sell the Madison Campus.

“Average spending per student has gone up exponentially over the last 20 years,” he said. “That building was fine for us growing up, it’s good enough for them.”

“That’s just disgusting,” the next speaker said. “Do you not have kids?”

She said she had worked in the preschool Children’s Square USA used to have in the basement of the Washington building, and it had been flooded and had mold growing there.

“I graduated from Kanesville, and that building (it was then in the Tinley building) was just as disgusting,” she said. “We tore that down, but we’re keeping this one and keeping our kids in it.”

“Our kids are our future,” she said.

That prompted a hearty round of applause and completed the hearing on the potential Madison Campus sale.

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