Cheney School District board of directors will hold a public meeting Wednesday, Aug. 7 to consider a proposal to sell the district’s former high school building to a local developer.
Steve Emtman, operating under Save the Fisher LLC, together with legal teams representing both parties, has drawn up a tentative Purchase and Sale Agreement for the Fisher Building, which served not only as the district’s high school since construction in 1929 but also the home of its administrative offices in later years. The district is in the process of moving the administrative offices to its new facility on Needham Hill just off Andrus Road, former home of the U.S. Air Force Nike Missile site and a Washington Air National Guard communications station.
Major upgrades to the Fisher’s electrical and mechanical system put an estimated price tag of $13 million to $15 million on renovation work that might make it functional again as an educational facility. The board subsequently voted to surplus the building at its May 16 board meeting, putting the building up for sale at an appraised value of $1,055,000.
Under the proposed agreement, Save the Fisher LLC would purchase the building for $950,000, 90 percent of the appraised value.
“Requirements are if you dispose of surplus property it must be within 10 percent of the appraised value,” district Superintendent Debra Clemens told the board at its July 17 meeting. “This is.”
Under the agreement, within two days of mutual acceptance of the agreement Save the Fisher LLC would deposit earnest money of $10,000 with an escrow agent. The balance of the purchase price would be paid in installments, $290,000 by Feb. 5, 2014, $350,000 by Aug. 6, 2014 and $300,000 by Feb. 4, 2015.
Final closing of the transaction would be dependent upon several contingencies. The first is a feasibility period, allowing Save the Fisher LLC 180 days after mutual acceptance to conduct investigations, inquiries and studies deemed “necessary or desirable to determine if the Property will be suitable for Buyer’s intended use.”
In the appraisal prepared for the district, appraisal firm Auble, Jolicouer & Gentry spelled out several aspects of the building that could lead to challenges for future development. Besides an electrical system at capacity and a mechanical system that is wearing out, the 57,128 square foot building across Fifth Street from Eastern Washington University’s Showalter Hall and on Greek row also has functional inefficiencies such as windows, differing materials and inconsistent hallway configurations. Parking is also limited and the building has no elevator – creating ADA issues.
Using renovation by a private developer of a similar styled but smaller, 27,379-square-foot former high school in Sandpoint, Idaho, and extrapolating out for the larger Fisher, Auble, Jolicouer & Gentry put an estimated renovation cost on the building of $5.76 million.
Other contingencies in the purchase agreement are for title review, environmental audit, financing – giving Save the Fisher LLC 180 days from the mutual acceptance date to obtain and show proof of financing – a 180-day extension period for each of the four previous contingencies and costs of feasibility. That extension period and the 180-day feasibility period left Director Rick Mount expressing some unease with the proposal.
“We’re basically taking this off the market for an entire year,” Mount said. “If things don’t go the way the developer would like, we would have lost a year (in selling the building).”
Mount, who is an attorney in private practice, also expressed reservations on aother section of the proposal, but added he was not against the idea of the contract with Save the Fisher LLC.
“For me as a board member, I need to have these issues answered that basically call for a legal conclusion that I don’t have the ability to address,” he said.
Clemens said the timeframe would be beneficial to the district, which has many items in the building of archival value that would need to be cataloged and stored. She noted community members concerned about the Fisher Building were very vocal about their desire to have it preserved and possibly bought by a local developer.
“If it works out, it could really be a win-win for our community and our district,” she said.
Auble, Jolicouer & Gentry contacted Emtman in preparing their appraisal. The Cheney property owner and developer, himself a Cheney High School graduate, expressed reservations about the ability to use the building as student housing, but noted the building’s most admired feature, the third-floor 300-seat auditorium, could be converted into something such as a supper club or entertainment venue.
John McCallum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.