January 24, 2013Guilford County Schools has an opportunity for a good deal on a new home for The Academy at Central, now housed in the Tomlinson building on the High Point Central High School campus.
High Point Central supporters want the Tomlinson building back for classroom space for the high school – and the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) Catholic Church on Johnson Street in High Point, which is building a new school, has put its old school on the market at its 2012 appraised price of $2.1 million.
That's a fire-sale price for Guilford County Schools, which can't build a school for less than 10 times that much. The least expensive new school on the project list for the $457 million 2008 school bond referendum was the southeast area elementary school – now George Simkins Elementary – which had a budget of $24.8 million.
You have to get way down that project list to find construction projects that cost $2 million. The budget to renovate the English building at Dudley High School was $3 million to add space for 100 students – and the IHM school holds 250 students. The Academy at Central has 135 students.
Guilford County Schools budgeted $2 million just to add stadium lighting and renovate restrooms and concession areas at Simeon Stadium in High Point.
Guilford County Schools Director of Facilities Planning Donna Bell and a team of school administrators on Dec. 20, 2012, inspected the old IHM school to see if it was suitable for use as a public school.
Considering the fact that the old IHM Catholic School has been in use since 1947 and will be until May, it seems likely that it will serve just fine as a replacement Academy at Central.
Guilford County Schools Executive Director of Facilities Management Robert Melton said as much. He said, "We know it's being used as a school in High Point, so based on that, it can probably be used."
Melton wouldn't discuss the specific results of the Dec. 20 visit or the likelihood of Guilford County Schools actually buying the school. As something the Guilford County Board of Education would have to decide, that's above his pay grade.
"We always get properties brought to us," Melton said. "We have not been given any instructions or have any details."
Melton said that, if the school board gets serious about buying the old IHM school, the Guilford County Schools Facilities Department would have to make longer inspection visits to the school.
He said, "If that's one that's brought to us, and we may put students in, we always analyze them in detail before making any decisions – and we at this point have no other information."
Guilford County Schools had had a large backlash from High Point Central supporters wanting renovations and expansions to Central – a backlash that helped kill the school board's proposed airport area high school.
The school board on Jan. 8 voted 8 to 3 to scrap the plan to build the airport area school, which was largely intended to relieve crowding at Northwest Guilford High School. The cancellation of the proposed high school frees up $71.5 million, if the Guilford County commissioners vote to issue the bonds intended for the airport area high school.
Of all the things the school board could do with what will probably be more than $100 million once you count leftover money from other projects, buying the IHM school for $2.1 and relocating The Academy at Central would be one of the most cost efficient. It would free up 12 classrooms in the Tomlinson building for students – and one of the main complaints of High Point Central supporters is that the school has 16 "floating teachers" who have no classrooms.
Buying the IHM school for $2.1 million to add space for 250 students comes to $8,400 a student. Guilford County Schools is spending $18 million to expand Summerfield Elementary School to add 277 students – about the capacity of the IHM school, for a cost of $65,000 a student.
The Summerfield Elementary School project includes expanding the cafeteria and media center – but IHM has a cafeteria, gym, library and a large sanctuary that could be converted into an auditorium. And, having been built in 1947, it is a solid brick building that would probably last. Guilford County Schools has schools built in the 1960s and 1970s that are already falling apart.
According to sources familiar with the IHM school, it has had regular upgrades and maintenance since then.
IHM Catholic Church is building a new, 400-student school on the same property as its current church building.
The new IHM Parish Life and Education Center will be on the church campus at the intersection of Johnson Street and Skeet Club Road. The old school is on the southwest corner of the intersection of Montlieu Avenue and North Centennial Street, across from High Point University.
Other nonprofit organizations have looked at the old IHM school in consideration of buying it – but, unlike most nonprofits, Guilford County Schools has money on hand. It might even get a discount off that $2.1 million for paying cash.
One major question hanging over the sale of the old IHM school is whether High Point University, the main entrance of which lies directly across Montlieu Avenue from the old IHM school, would try to buy the school. High Point University has been buying up the neighborhoods around its campus at a rapid clip, and has especially targeted properties around the entrances of its campus.
An email to High Point University President and CEO Nido Qubein, asking him whether he would bid against Guilford County Schools if it tried to buy the old IHM school, elicited a simple answer: "No."
That eliminates what would be a major competitor for Guilford County Schools if it bid on the school.
The old IHM school has not been listed with a commercial broker. It is a specialty property with appeal mostly to other schools – charter schools and Guilford County Schools, if it tries to buy the property.