Little Rock School District leaders are in the midst of two big real estate and construction transactions.
Superintendent Mike Poore has sent to Arkansas Education Commissioner Johnny Key for his approval:
• The proposed sale of the vacant Woodruff Early Childhood Education Center, 3010 W. Seventh St., for $300,000.
• A guaranteed maximum price of $103,358,890 for the construction of the new Southwest High School to serve 2,250 ninth- through 12th-graders starting in August 2020.
Key has approved the guaranteed maximum price for the new high school at 11 Mabelvale Plaza Drive, Poore said.
Both deals require Key's approval because he serves as the School Board in the state-controlled Little Rock district, which currently does not have an elected board.
The estimated price of the new high school has steadily increased since the district began planning for it more than a year ago.
"We've done some checking with other groups that are building, and it seems to be the trend," Poore said. "It's a pretty lively market, and that is raising some construction costs. We are not unusual compared to others that are experiencing a 2 to 3 percent increase in costs. It's not really surprising for us."
He also said that preparation of the rocky site has cost more than anticipated.
Just in Pulaski County, the Jacksonville/North Pulaski School District is building a new elementary and high school; the Pulaski County Special School District is building a new high school and middle school; and eSTEM Public Charter Schools is building an elementary and junior high schools. North Little Rock School District and Maumelle Charter Schools have recently completed capital projects.
The Little Rock School District can manage the cost by dipping deeper into some of the different funding sources that it has for the school, Poore said.
"It might mean that we have to do a little bit less on some other projects that we had intended for the rest of the district. But, we also still hope that as they start to work on this that maybe we'll have some cost savings along the way that we can recover," he said.
The district is paying for the school with this year's final state payment of $37.3 million in desegregation aid, plus some district savings and a share of the $93.3 million that the district raised last year through the issue of second-lien bonds.
Second-lien bonds, which do not require voter approval, are repaid with the money that a district receives from debt service tax mills that is over and above what it needs to pay pre-existing bond debt.
By settling on a guaranteed maximum price for the high school, "you are almost turning the project over to the contractor," Poore said. "And if any costs that go above that number -- unless there is some extenuating circumstance or we make a decision to modify the building -- it comes out of their pocket. They have to deal with it, not us. It takes us off the hook and puts it on Nabholz [construction company] to go do the work."
The guaranteed price includes some fixtures and furnishings, but there are other items that are not covered. The district will have to pay for those costs with other resources, he said.
Key has not yet approved the proposed sale of the vacant Woodruff Early Childhood Education Center.
Poore and his staff have asked Key to authorize district leaders to proceed with a sale of the school to Fairfield Historic Properties Inc., of which Ross B. Toyne, a Miami, Fla., lawyer, is president. Toyne made an offer on the school almost a year ago but lost out then to a higher bidder.
Toyne's offer for the property last spring was $250,000, but the district selected MT Properties, which is also known as Moses Tucker Real Estate Inc., which offered $700,000 for the property.
Late last year, MT Properties concluded that it couldn't make the deal work and backed out of it. The school system re-advertised for offers.
Poore said Thursday that the multiple resulting offers came down to two -- one from Toyne and the other from Lance Levi of Little Rock -- both for $250,000. The district countered with a request for $300,000. Both parties agreed to the higher price, but Toyne responded first for Fairfield Historic Properties Inc.
"It did work in our favor. Both accepted the counter-offer, and it ended up that Ross Toyne beat out the other gentleman by a matter of minutes," Poore said.
Poore said each of the two offers had some pluses and minuses. He said he appreciated Toyne's interest in the property over the long-term and that the Toyne plan for developing the space into apartments seemed more acceptable to the surrounding neighborhood than some of the other plans.
Fairfield Historic Properties' offer, however, is conditional on zoning changes and the outcome of various inspections, so the sale is not final, Poore said.
"There is still a chance something could fall through with him," Poore said.
Toyne, whose Florida law practice includes representing people who work on ships, said Friday that the plans he made last year for the Woodruff site are about the same now. Those include converting the school into 17-25 apartments, the actual number depending on the possibility of also operating a private early-childhood education center at the site.
The renovations would retain the 1911-constructed school's "historical character while incorporating renewable energy [features] and high technology," Toyne wrote in the initial proposal.
Low water-consumption utility features, rooftop solar photovoltaic panels, electric-car charging provisions and bicycle storage, as well as complexwide Wi-Fi, high-efficiency air conditioners and insulated wind-resistant windows, would all be installed as permitted under historical restoration standards, Toyne said in his early planning for the site.
Drawn to historic real estate development in Little Rock by friends who live here, Toyne said that since he first made an offer on Woodruff, he has purchased and is renovating structures at 1415 Center and 2220 S. State streets in Little Rock. Both are four-plexes.
"Folks are really nice. I've had great success in speaking with the building and zoning people there. With any projects they are very cooperative and helpful, interested in seeing things going forward," Toyne said.
Little Rock School District leaders permanently closed three schools -- Woodruff, Franklin Elementary and Hamilton Learning Academy -- and altered the use of Wilson Elementary at the end of the 2016-17 school year as a way to cut district operating expenses. Woodruff and Franklin were put up for sale.
MT Properties offered $700,000 to purchase the Woodruff campus, with plans to convert the school into 23 one- to three-bedroom apartments plus event space on the first floor and a community swimming pool.
Ray Nolan of Moses Tucker said in early December that the developer -- known for revitalizing old buildings -- couldn't make the costs work for the conversion of the 1911 school.
"It is a beautiful building," Nolan said late last year, "and it is right up our alley -- we love restoring those old and historic, cool buildings. But it was tough to work with and the costs got really, really high to the point that we couldn't make it work."
Act 542 of 2017 makes vacant or underused school properties more available than in the past to operators of open-enrollment charter schools to use. Open-enrollment charter schools and traditional school districts compete for students and state funding.
The law requires a traditional district to submit to the state a list of its unused and underused properties and its plans -- if they exist then -- to reuse, renovate or demolish those buildings as part of a specific project.
The state Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation Division by March 1 must publish a list on its website identifying the properties that are unused or underused and available for lease or purchase for no more than fair market value to any public charter school within a school district's boundaries.
The act also gives a charter school the right of first refusal to purchase or lease an underused or vacant property for up to two years after the date the public school facility was last used for academics.
There are currently two former Little Rock district buildings -- Mitchell Elementary and Garland Elementary -- being readied for opening in the coming 2018-19 school year as open-enrollment charter schools.
Metro on 02/17/2018