Originally Published: September 6, 2017 5:55 a.m.
In February, the Prescott Unified School District’s 20-member central administration leaders expect to occupy new office space on the second floor of one of this state’s most historic school buildings.
The Governing Board voted 4-0 Tuesday night to accept a bid of just under $386,000 to renovate the upper floor, as well as a portion of the main floor, at the Washington Traditional School on East Gurley Street so that it can accommodate office spaces and provide a first-floor reception area and a conference room for the board’s public voting and discussion sessions. Member Scott Hicks was absent to attend a state School Board Association meeting.
The bulk of the space to be renovated is on the second floor above what once was the former longest operating elementary school’s main entrance, with access off a stairwell with a curved wooden banister that will be preserved in the restoration effort. The state provides some leniency on restoration of historic buildings, so an elevator does not need to be installed -- but to meet codes to accommodate either employees with disabilities or members of the public, some of the old main floor classrooms will be transformed to offer the public proper accessibility, said Superintendent Joe Howard.
The district’s preschool program, Discovery Gardens, is located on the main floor in another section of the building with fenced-in playground space and its own separate entrance.
The district received seven official bids, and accepted the second-lowest bid — Axiom Enterprises of Kingman — as the lowest bid did not meet all of the qualifications required for the job, officials said. The lowest bid was $13,000 less than the bid accepted; the highest bid was more than $600,000.
How will the district pay for these renovations and moving costs? Proceeds from the sales of no longer needed buildings.
The voters agreed two years ago to sell two former schools and the district offices. In January, the first of the three, the former Dexter Elementary School, sold for $1 million.
The district is under contract to sell the former Miller Valley Elementary School to Ironline Partners in Phoenix -- the buyer of the Dexter property that is now leased to Northpoint Expeditionary Learning Academy -- by the end of the month. The board Tuesday night held a short, closed-door session to discuss a third potential offer for the current district offices on South Granite Street. No decision was made as district administrators continue to negotiate with the prospective buyers.
The loss of two prior offers, including an initial one from Ironline Partners, has been something of a frustration to district leaders but the district’s real estate agents assure that the central office property is in a prime downtown location and will eventually sell.
A renovation and move to Washington Traditional was for a time expected to occur after a purchase, requiring the district to then lease out the space for a period of time. With the now-scheduled move to the former school, Howard said it might actually make for a better real estate deal because the buyers would be able to immediately be able to pursue whatever development or use they envision there.
Board member Maureen Erickson asked when work could commence, and was informed the bid is good for 60 days and construction is expected to begin almost immediately so work is done in January. Construction will be done in the late afternoon and evenings and on weekends so as not to interfere with the preschool operations.
In other business, the board agreed to spend $120,000 to hire additional staff to accommodate some larger-than-average class sizes in its six K-12 schools. One high school English class at the beginning of the year had 45 students; those numbers have been adjusted with the use of substitutes so that no English classes have more than the maximum of 35 students. All three elementary schools are getting some extra paraeducator help and additional staff has been added to assist with high school science and choir.
The extra dollars come from one-time monies, including Forest Fees, Indian Gaming and Medicaid.
Howard said the district budgets conservatively on staff, preferring to adjust based on real numbers rather than be forced to reduce staff if enrollments are not high enough.
For the second of two years, the district has had to hire additional staff to accommodate slightly higher enrollment figures.
“I’m glad we have this problem,” said Board President Greg Mengarelli.