Proposition 402 may be a “sleeper” for many voters but it has the attention of private school officials and commercial real estate executives. If approved by voters Nov. 2, it would allow Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) to sell, lease or exchange more than 80 parcels of surplus buildings and land.
Those parcels include nine vacant elementary schools and 76 pieces of land, parking lots, warehouses, and other real property.
“This sleeper proposition, it hasn’t gotten much attention. Whether it passes or not, we are going to move forward,” said Bryant Nodine, planning program manager who handles real estate for TUSD.
The measure appears only on ballots of voters in TUSD.
State law mandates that any income from property sales can only be used to pay down a district’s bond indebtedness or make capital improvements.
“Our focus is on the nine schools we closed. We need to move rapidly, to look at possible uses for the schools so they don’t sit vacant,” Nodine said.
The district’s governing board however, faces a paradox if the proposition passes. Various church and charter school officials already have approached TUSD to buy certain schools. The sites would be a perfect fit for their growing enrollments and consistent with the property’s existing use.
The district however, hasn’t embraced the idea of selling its schools to other educational groups.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for private schools to continue these properties as educational entities. With Wrightstown Elementary closing, we explored the possibility of buying it for years but the TUSD bureaucracy has made the process very slow,” said John O’Hair, headmaster of Desert Christian Schools, 7525 E. Speedway.
Wrightstown is at 8950 E. Wrightstown Road. Desert Christian also had an interest in vacated Van Horn Elementary School, 7550 E. Pima St.
La Paloma Academy, a charter school headquartered at 2050 N. Wilmot Road, too, is interested in acquiring some closed schools.
Nodine acknowledged that selling off TUSD schools to private schools could be a competitive issue. The district must make decisions “based on the highest and best use” for the buildings and “kids who enroll in a charter school we used to own would be a loss of revenue for TUSD. If they (a private school) want it, that will cause an additional layer of review.”
To help guide them, the district has some planned, and unplanned, assistance. Around each vacant school, TUSD has formed neighborhood advisory committees. These groups will have a say in whether the schools are sold or leased, and to whom.
Unexpected help is coming from the Counselors of Real Estate, a group of real estate advisors. Led by 50-year veteran Sanders “Sonny” Solot, an appraiser with Alliance Bank of Arizona, the group approached TUSD as a community service project.
“We volunteered to help, offering them suggestions on how to market and sell the properties. We will not necessarily set prices, but rather suggest how to best solve this problem of excess,” Solot said. “It is very costly for the district to hang onto the properties, they still have daily operating expenses like utilities, site maintenance and watchmen. It’s a lose-lose situation.”
Nodine said the expertise of Solot’s group is a welcome addition, especially in evaluating appraisals and bids.
In addition to Solot, his group includes Mike Naifeh of MJN Enterprises, Tim Prouty of CB Richard Ellis, Mike Hammond of Picor Commercial Real Estate, Dean Cotlow of the Cotlow Company, Jim Sellers of Heritage Advisory Corporation, and Don Laidlaw of Laidlaw Consulting.
“With us, there are no gimmicks. We are straight shooters. TUSD was shocked that we didn’t want a fee,” said Solot. “Some of the land areas are really enormous and very well located. The schools are in play. If the district decides to sell, not lease, there will be a very high level of interest.”
Biz FactsDuffy, 5145 E. Fifth St.
Vacant TUSD elementary schools that could be sold if Prop 402 passes.
Fort Lowell, 5151 E. Pima St.
Jefferson Park, 1701 E. Seneca St.
Reynolds, 7450 E. Stella Road
Richey, 2209 N. 15th Ave.
Roberts, 4355 E. Calle Aurora
Rogers, 6000 E. 14th St.
Van Horne, 7550 E. Pima St.
Wrightstown, 8950 E. Wrightstown Rd.
Contact reporter Roger Yohem at firstname.lastname@example.org or (520) 295-4254.