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New Berlin plans to sell old schools to help pay for maintenance projects

Feb. 26, 2013

New Berlin - With no one speaking at a public hearing Monday on selling the old Prospect Hill School and two other pieces of excess school property, the New Berlin School Board decided to pursue a plan to sell them plus the old Little Grove School thereby probably raising half a million dollars for badly needed repairs at schools that are still in use.

Whether the district will get that much for the properties is anybody's guess, said Roger Dickson, director of business services. Despite appraisals done last year, a property will bring only what someone will pay for it, he said.

The School Board has a long list of potential projects at the schools costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Cash from the sale of excess property would pay for at least some of those projects, Dickson said.

Superintendent Joe Garza said that although he doesn't want to get out ahead of the School Board's desires, "We want to get these revenue streams going."

Dickson will come to the board's March 11 meeting with recommendations on how to go about selling the properties. Then the board will officially vote on whether to go ahead with seeking buyers.

The sale of the four properties was not the only thing he updated the board on, however.

There is a chance that the schools and city can swap and work out deals in which needs are met for both the city and the schools, Dickson said. Part of the thinking involves the city being able to use the schools' 50 acres at Beloit and Calhoun roads for much-needed ball fields. The city also is thinking it might be like to move the recreation programs now at the Hickory Grove Center to the recently closed Glen Park Elementary School, 3500 S. Glen Park Road. Then Hickory Grove would revert to the schools and could be sold to raise more money to repair other schools, Dickson said. Hickory Grove was appraised at $1,135,000, Dickson said.

Glen Park would have room for activities now held at the New Berlin Community Center, which also could conceivably be abandoned, Dickson said.

But all this is only in the very infancy of being considered, he cautioned.

While recreation activities are an option for the former Glen Park School, neighbors are worried about the site in the middle of a single-family neighborhood being used for multifamily housing, Garza said. Some even wonder if low-income housing could be forced in there as it was into the New Berlin City Center, he said.

But residents should not worry about any of that, Garza said, noting that zoning doesn't allow multifamily and the schools can show the property only to potential buyers who don't have that in mind.

Not only that, any sale would need the approval of voters, Dickson said.

With Glen Park and all the possible swaps still at the brainstorming stage, Little Grove School, 3800 S. Racine Ave., is at the other end of the spectrum where the schools and a buyer are close to an agreement, Dickson said. Last year's appraisal estimated its value at $238,000, he said. The 5,600-square foot school sits on 5.4 acres.

For the three other properties for which the hearing was held, the board will have to decide how to proceed.

The former Prospect Hill School, on 9.14 acres at 5330 S. Racine Ave., was closed when Ronald Reagan Elementary School opened. The appraised value is only $23,000 because of the cost of tearing the school down, Dickson said.

The other two properties are vacant tracts. One is 20 acres on the east side of Martin Road just south of Beres Road and the other is about 10 acres on the northeast corner of Small and Calhoun roads.

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