School Board Advances Land-Swap Plan

School Board members Ruby Kalra (from left) and Zahir Robb, Superintendent Geoff Yantz and board President Suzie Abajian discuss a request for proposals draft regarding the district office property at the Nov. 12 meeting. Photo by Skye Hannah

The Board of Education is moving ahead with plans for a possible property exchange for its 1020 El Centro St. district-office property. At its meeting of Nov. 12, the board unanimously approved a draft of a “request for proposals” (RFP) in order to notify and solicit potential trading partners.

“This is another milestone, a significant step in the process of the property disposition initiative the board set out to do a couple of years ago,” Superintendent Geoff Yantz told the board at the meeting.

According to an agenda point for the meeting, the board completed “a thorough review of property disposition strategies” and is ready to take the next step in seeking qualified parties to submit proposals to exchange the approximately 1.896 acres of property at the district office.

“The anticipated exchange of Property would occur in accordance with Education Code section 17536 et seq.,” the agenda noted. “These sections provide that a school district’s board may exchange any of its real property for the real property of another person or private business firm. Said exchange may be upon the terms and conditions agreed to by the parties and need not comply with other Education Code provisions governing the disposal of surplus property.”

The RFP was drafted by legal counsel and reviewed and discussed by the Board of Education over the last few months, according to Yantz. The board has partnered with broker Sam S. Manoukian, a RE/MAX real estate professional in Glendale, for the process.

Yantz noted that the RFP will become available to the public in January, and then it will go out for “several months during that time interested developers may submit proposals to Manoukian.”

Board members clarified that the draft approval of the RFP does not hold the district to any agreement with developers at this stage.

“All we’re doing is looking to see what options are available to us out there and this isn’t binding, nor is it costing anything,” said Board Member Ruby Kalra.

“The board has no obligation to accept any of the offers and it doesn’t cost the board anything,” board President Suzie Abajian added.

At the May 14 board meeting, Yantz said that the 16,000 square foot district office is currently around 100 years old and is struggling with a multitude of workspace constraints, structural issues and numerous safety upgrade needs.

“The condition is just not acceptable,” said Yantz.

After an assessment was made in 2015, it was calculated that it would cost the district $6 million to restore and recondition the property. Yantz pointed out that cost would be greater today. The property options were detailed as sell, lease, keep as is or exchange. The exchange is the current focus of the district.

Abajian noted at the May meeting that the district also used a considerable amount of funds set aside for the upgrade for school site improvement.

“The moneys that we initially were allocating for the upgrading and the expansion of the district office is no longer there because we’ve used a portion of it to put into the rest of the building projects at the school sites … hence the need for a different way of dealing and financing the upgrades at the district office,” said Abajian.

City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe told the board in May that the development review process for a project would first involve the city negotiating the public benefit with the developer, while taking in input from the community.

“Whether it’s housing or public parking, we would look at the priorities and needs of the community and try and find a balance that works best for both the developer and the community,” said DeWolfe.

From there, a full-on environmental impact review would be conducted, followed by a review by the Cultural Heritage Commission, Design Review Board, Planning Commission and then to the City Council. DeWolfe said the city would spend considerable time working with the developer to ensure the facilitation of development and investment in the city while making sure the correct investment for the community was made.

DeWolfe expected the process to take 12 to 18 months, depending on the complexity of the project and the responsiveness of the developer.

Board Clerk Michele Kipke noted in May that the board looks forward to participating in the community conversations as the district moves forward in the process.

“If we learned anything the last round of looking at development of this property, the community has a real emotional attachment to this project and they have an awful lot to say about it,” said Kipke.