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CMSD to try to sell Brandon Central Services

At their January 9 meeting, the Columbus Municipal School District announced plans to attempt to sell the Brandon Central Services property.

Located on McArthur Drive, Brandon was formerly a K-3 school. It sits on a 12-acre site. The original 46,100-square-foot building was built in 1959; by 1961 12 more classrooms had been added. It has served as the district’s central office since 1996.
Monday night Interim Superintendent Martha Liddell asked the board’s permission to list the property for sale in order to help the cash-strapped district bring in much-needed funds.
“As trustees we have a responsibility to maximize the income of the district and to utilize the assets properly,” said board President Glenn Lautzenhiser. “But before we have a motion and a second I’m going to let Dr. Liddell speak to the rationale and reasoning behind the sale.”
“As you all know we have been working diligently on our budget process on the last few months, and we’ve been working to insure that our expenses are in line with our revenue,” Liddell said. “It’s very important that we look at all avenues. A few years ago, as much as ten years ago, there was a lot of interest in that particular property. We certainly hope that that interest continues to be there. This is one of those avenues that we need to consider, as we did with the Lee Middle School property in looking at the potential sale of it. The timing is right, especially with our budget matters. In looking at our budget, we realize that we need some new opportunities and this could bring some significant revenue into district coffers.”
“If you approve this tonight signs will go up on the Brandon property similar to the signs we are putting up at Lee Middle School,” Lautzenhiser said. “We’ll see what kind of interest results from that.” Bruce Hanson made the motion and was seconded by Tommy Prude.
“I would hope this board would consider if we do find dollars from the Brandon property that we not use it for recurring expenses but for items that are necessary for our district, such as more e-learning equipment,” Hanson said. “We know that we have a great need for that. We don’t want to throw money into salary and gas and things of that nature when we can use it more wisely to further the education of our kids.”
Prude recommended relocating the central office to the Hunt campus.
“We spent a great deal of money renovating Hunt,” Prude said. “It seems like just practical business that we would sell this property and move to a renovated property.”
The motion to put Brandon up for sale passed unanimously. There was no further discussion of where the district’s offices may move if the property is sold.

The potential sale of Brandon comes after a particularly hard budget year for the district. Last year’s budget process proved to be highly controversial with the news that the district needed an estimated nine mills to meet its needs; however, after many cuts, the tax increase amounted to about 3 mills, with a total millage levy of 65.87 mills. The district has issued shortfall notes for nine of the previous 10 budget years.
According to material released by the district last year, the CMSD’s fund balance had dropped by about $8 million over four years, largely because of “one-time costs” such as additions to buildings, debt obligations and losses in revenue from state and federal sources. [Part of those “one-time” costs was the district’s renovation of Hunt (to which Mr. Prude refers above), which cost around $527,000. Packet readers will recall that then-Superintendent Del Phillips said that part of the rationale for closing Hunt and building the new middle school was its age and the high cost associated with maintaining it and that, if renovated, the building would only be “prettier” and still unequal to the district’s needs. Eventual renovations included repairs and replacement of heating and air condition units to make them more energy efficient, repair of collapsed sewer lines, water leaks and exhaust fans, and installation of a new handicapped-access ramp. Rooms were painted, floors repaired, a security system was installed, windows were repaired and replaced, doorways were installed in hallways for energy efficiency, and the kitchen area was remodeled. The building is currently being used for special education services and for the alternative school. Part of the campus is used for community programs by the Columbus Lowndes Recreation Authority, and part includes a museum and cultural center that houses artifacts from Hunt’s past as the segregation-era school for blacks. – Brian Jones]

Brandon is the latest campus to put up for grabs by the district. Mitchell Elementary was sold in August 2009 to Greater Pentecostal Temple Church of God in Christ for $85,000. That school was sold with a reverter clause that stated that the building would return to the school district if it was ever used for anything other than its stated purpose; it also gave the CMSD right of first refusal if the church decided to sell the property or transfer ownership. Mitchell School was closed at the end of the 2007-08 school year. Genesis Church bought Hughes Alternative School in January 2010 for $50,000. Hughes had been dormant since the 2004-05 school year.
Lee Middle School is currently for sale after its students were moved to the new Columbus Middle School.

In other business, new trustee Aubra Turner was sworn in. Aubra Turner replaces Alma Turner, who retired November 1 of last year. The two are not related. Aubra Turner will serve the rest of Alma Turner’s term, which expires in 2014.

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