OWOSSO — In a unanimous decision Monday, the Owosso Public Schools Board of Education approved a $500,000 purchase agreement with Community Housing Network (CHN) for the sale of the Owosso Middle School, with a closing date no later than June 30, 2022.
The agreement — a result of nearly two months of negotiations between Owosso Public Schools Superintendent Andrea Tuttle and CHN representatives — received widespread support from city officials, community stakeholders and board members during Monday’s board meeting as CHN — a nonprofit committed to providing homes for people in need — intends to create a mixed use development featuring residential and commercial spaces at the middle school site — 219 N. Water St.
One of the key challenges in the negotiations, according to Tuttle, was the realization that the northwest corner of the middle school property is within the 100-year floodplain, thus making it difficult for CHN to secure grant funding.
During Monday’s meeting, Tuttle commended the efforts of C.J. Felton — CHN’s director of real estate development — for working through obstacles to make the purchase agreement a reality.
“This company (CHN) has proven itself when we go out and do our research, but even more so with the issue with the river,” Tuttle said. “I know we’ve had some bumps, and we’re probably going to have continued bumps, but regardless of who we sell that building to we need to resolve that (floodplain) problem. I don’t know that it’s (Felton’s) responsibility to do that, but he’s working really hard with us, as is (Chamber President/CEO) Jeff Deason, (Shiawassee Economic Development Partnership President/CEO) Justin (Horvath), (Owosso City Manager) Nathan (Henne), (Owosso Mayor) Chris (Eveleth). Everyone’s working together to do what’s best for our community.”
The middle school was available for sale because the district is consolidating middle and high school students at one campus on North Street, thanks to a 2017 bond measure.
Work at the combined school campus is ahead of schedule, according to Tuttle, thanks to favorable weather conditions. Barring setbacks, middle school students could transition to the combined campus as early as this fall, she said.
Upon completion of the 6-12 campus, the current middle school along North Water Street will be vacated and deemed “no longer of educational service to the district.”
The district began seeking bids for the property in May 2019, and — after a six-month bidding process — the Owosso Public Schools Board of Education started talks with CHN, who submitted the lone bid of $500,000 for the 4.5-acre property, which includes the Don and Metta Mitchell Amphitheater.
“We are really pleased by all of the support from the city and from the school board in moving this project forward,” Felton said. “Unanimous consent, unanimous approval is always what you want and we’re just really excited to keep moving forward.”
The total development cost of converting the existing middle school into a mix of residential and commercial spaces is about $17 million, according to Felton; CHN hopes to secure a portion of those funds through a Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) grant, which Felton indicated the nonprofit will apply for this fall.
“It looks like Oct. 1 right now (is the earliest we can apply),” Felton said. “We do need to work through this question of the floodway and how we deal with that, but there’s some good engineers involved and I’m pretty confident that there’s an easy solution…We’re hoping within the next 60 days that we have a good plan for how to move forward, and then it’s just a matter of working through — there’s people at the state that need to look at it, there’s people at (the) Federal Emergency Management Agency in Washington D.C. that need to look at it, but as long as it’s a good, solid engineering plan, that should be approved.”
Despite the obstacles thus far, Felton said the widespread support from those in the greater Owosso community has been tremendous.
“We’ve been welcomed here with open arms, that does not happen in a whole lot of places,” Felton said. “The entire community, from the school board, city management, the business community, your nonprofit community, everybody has participated, giving positive suggestions on what this building can become. We’re going to incorporate as many of them as we can…We’re excited to be a part of the community here.”