10/25/18: Board agrees to sell closed schools

By Gary Weckselblatt

The Quakertown Community School Board on October 25 voted to sell two shuttered schools, Milford Middle and Tohickon Valley Elementary, to Faith Christian Academy for $2 million.

Part of the agreement, which the Board passed in a 7-2 vote, calls for FCA to lease back Tohickon at no cost to QCSD during the 2019-20 school year as Neidig Elementary is renovated.

The closing of both schools, Milford in 2017 and TVES this year, were key pieces of the Administration plans to cut into a $4.7 million structural deficit. Closing Milford saved just over $1 million in annual operating costs while closing TVES saves $1.8 a year.

Still. while the closings helped the District's fiscal outlook, the emotions of the closures, particularly Milford, did not go over well with a segment of the community and many of the newer Board members.

The fate of both buildings has been debated in both Board and Facilities Committee meetings. The discussion on October 25 included whether the District put itself at risk of a charter school purchasing the property from Faith Christian down the road. Public Districts don't have to pay the tuition of private school students, but they do for those that choose to attend a charter.

Director Keith Micucci, who was against the Milford closing and voted against shuttering TVES on the night he was sworn in as a Board member, said "You have to look at this from a logical standpoint. We have two buildings today that we're not using. We're sitting on $2 million. Our expenses continue to rise. We raised taxes last year. Holding onto something for the what ifs in the world is a really difficult concept. ...

"I struggle with this holding onto things. It's like having multiple cars and not using them. What if my engine breaks? I could what if things to death. And I do sometimes. And I struggled with this decision. ... But I can't see holding onto property when we have debt that is huge in this community. And it will continue to rise with the expansion of Neidig ... So while it may be a nominal amount in some people's eyes. I don't know that anybody else is going to want to buy two empty, vacant schools or use them appropriately to educate students. And so I really feel strongly that owning property as a district is not what we should be about, especially when they are vacant with buildings on them. If we want, we have property to build on if we have to expand. ... But I just can't see having a rainy day fund of two buildings just lying vacant that we have to worry about."

Board member Jon Kern, who finds himself opposing Mr. Micucci on many topics, said he appreciated his comments. "I want to stand up and applaud," Mr. Kern said. "That was very well spoken."

Board Vice President David Ochmanowicz Jr. voted against the sale, along with Director Jennifer Weed. Mr. Ochmanowicz has been a consistent voice against selling the two properties, saying the move puts the District in a "precarious situation for very little gain at this time." Prior to the vote, he called the $2 million a "rock bottom price."

The District had two appraisals done on the properties, said Chief Operating Officer Zach Schoch. Prices for TVES were $900,000 and $1.3 million. Milford's appraisals were far different. One said the building was worth $2 million. The other, however, said the work that needs to be done to the building outweighs its value, and called knocking down the building, an estimated $600,000 cost, the best use option. The Milford land would then be worth $1 million.

Mr. Kern, whose children attended Faith Christian in Sellersville, said "I couldn't wish for a nicer bunch of new people coming in to our District and to help make it better. ... It's a wonderful group of people."

Gary Weckselblatt, QCSD Director of Communications, writes about the people and the programs that impact the Quakertown Community School District. He can be reached at 215-529-2028 or gweckselblatt@qcsd.org.

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