OWOSSO — After a six-month bidding process, the Owosso Middle School is one step closer to being sold and potentially being converted into some type of housing.
Monday, the Owosso Public Schools Board of Education unanimously authorized Superintendent Andrea Tuttle to enter into negotiations with Community Housing Network (CHN) on a purchase agreement for the middle school property, 219 N. Water St.
The finalized terms of the purchase agreement, if reached, will have to go before the board of education for approval.
The approximately 122,000-square-foot structure will be vacated upon the completion of the Owosso 6-12 campus, which is expected to take place in December 2020. Once empty, the OMS property will be deemed no longer of educational service to the district, according to school officials.
The middle school was built in 1928, with additions in 1950 and 1973. The building includes an auditorium capable of seating approximately 800 people, as well as a full kitchen that serves 700-plus students. The total site is 4.5 acres. The amount of acreage included in the sale of the property has yet to be negotiated, school officials said previously.
The district began seeking bids in May, and a number of interested parties toured the space, according to Tuttle, though only one bid — by CHN — was submitted prior to the deadline.
“When seeking a potential buyer, the board was first and foremost interested in engaging a buyer who would repurpose the middle school in a way that would complement and benefit our beautiful community,” Tuttle said via email Tuesday. “Community Housing Network has a proven track record of refurbishing facilities for new purposes while maintaining the nostalgia of the facility. The board of education and administration are pleased to have a company of their caliber interested in the purchase of the middle school facility.”
According to the organization’s website, Community Housing Network is a nonprofit, “committed to providing homes for people in need through proven strategies of homelessness prevention, housing assistance and development, community education and referral, advocacy and additional services.”
The organization carries out its work in southeast Michigan with offices in Troy, Mount Clemens and Detroit. Since launching in 2001, CHN has developed more than 744 units, leveraging more than $122 million in funding, according to its website.
The organization’s intent with the middle school property is to create a mixed use space, according to Tuttle, including residential and commercial space on the building’s lower level. The specifics of CHN’s plans will be flushed out as they proceed with planning if and when the purchase agreement is reached, she said.
In order to make the project financially viable, CHN looks to procure funds through a grant from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA). One of the requirements for the MSHDA grant application is a purchase agreement allowing access to the site; however, Tuttle noted the agreement will require specific provisions that reflect the needs of the district and the community.
“The purpose of the negotiations is to provide a clear understanding of the responsibilities of each party,” Tuttle said. “In particular with the middle school project, there are fair amount of timelines that will need to be somewhat fluid in order to grant each party the opportunity to get done what needs to get done including CHN developing a comprehensive plan that can be put before MSHDA.
The negotiation process will assist with providing an outline of these mile markers, specifics of items that other parties — like the city — would like to have contained within the agreement as well as other details to be determined by each of the parties. Allowing me the opportunity to work through these negotiations with the ultimate agreement to come before the board assists in incorporating all items before the board has to approve the agreement.”
In 2014, Owosso Public Schools negotiated the sale of the former Lincoln Alternative School to the Ohio-based firm Woda Group, which expanded the vacant structure at 120 Michigan Ave. and renovated the existing space into a 30,000-square-foot, 28-unit senior living complex.
A copy of the purchase agreement used during the Lincoln sale has been shared with CHN to help the organization gain a better understanding of what was approved by the board of education in the past, Tuttle said, though the middle school agreement will need to contain additional provisions given the unique nature of the site.
“Complexities include such items as the amphitheater, access to the river and the time capsule in the building,” Tuttle said. “The district and the city are working together to ensure that the agreement is in the best interest of the community as a whole.”
The decision to put the middle school property up for sale came after the Owosso 6-12 campus bond was approved in November 2017.
Voters passed a $45.5-million bond that included the cost of the project, along with other improvements to the district’s elementary schools.
The bond covers the cost of the building construction and renovations needed to combine grades 6-12 at the high school campus, a price tag of approximately $38 million, while maintaining separation between middle school and high school students.
The measure includes funding for an updated career and technical education space, a new gymnasium for middle school students and a multi-purpose education space capable of seating 1,000 people, serving as both an auditorium and a classroom.
Tuttle said she hopes to have a purchase agreement negotiated and recommended to the board of education for future action by January or February, with the board voting on the agreement the following month.