School district gets new home

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COEUR d'ALENE - The Coeur d'Alene School District's central office has found a new home.

Trustees on Monday unanimously approved a preliminary lease-purchase agreement that will pave the way for the district's administrative center to move from its 10th Street location into an existing 21,000-square-foot commercial property along Northwest Boulevard near the intersection of Ironwood Drive and Seltice Way.

Wendell Wardell, the district's chief operations officer, outlined the acquisition plan during the school board's regular open meeting. The purchase option on the building, located at 1400 Northwood Center Court, is $2.2 million. The option can be exercised after nine months of occupancy at a lease price of $21,000 per month.

"I think the project's an excellent move. It allows the administrative side of the district to move forward, plan for the future and have the space to take care of its people and the needs of the school district," said Trustee Jim Purtee, following Wardell's presentation. "It's one of the most cost-effective things that I think can be done."

Wardell and board chair Tom Hamilton said the acquisition plan was developed over a period of several months, and discussed by trustees with district administrators during a number of executive sessions. Idaho open meeting law specifically allows the governing bodies of public agencies to meet behind closed doors to discuss the purchase of property not owned by a public agency.

Financing for the property will be generated by the school district internally. The district holds $947,000 in its real estate acquisition account that will be applied to the purchase. The district will raise another $1,205,000 through the disposal of its share of Person Field, which the city of Coeur d'Alene is planning to acquire, and the sale of its property near Northshire Park along Atlas Avenue. The remaining $48,000 will come from the district's fund balance reserve.

The school district's 10th Street building is slated for demolition in March 2013, when the adjacent Sorensen Elementary School is renovated. The cost of the demolition was included in the $32.7 million school building bond voters approved in August. It did not include funding for the district administration building.

Housing for the district's central office staff has been a concern for school officials for several years. Since at least 2007, many employees working in the 1950s-era 10th Street building have been affected by upper-respiratory problems, indicating an environmental issue. Investigations have failed to positively identify a cause, and attempts to resolve the problem have been unsuccessful. About 20 central office employees are unable to work in the building because they become ill when they are there.

In addition to being a "sick building," Wardell said the district's current administrative office building is inefficient because it's too small and is poorly laid out.

Wardell said the new building is "healthy," well-constructed and available for occupancy Feb. 1, when the central office staff needs to move out of the old, downtown building. The new building is more centrally located to all district schools.

Prior to planning the lease-purchase of the building off Northwest Boulevard, Wardell said they considered whether it would be feasible to develop a new administrative center near the district's Midtown Center and maintenance garages off Fourth Street.

A pro-bono feasibility study estimated that a new building in that location would cost $4 to $5 million, too much for the district's budget.

Wardell said when he and the district's maintenance director, Bryan Martin, first toured the future home of the district's administrative offices in September, they were excited.

"It was a quality building that literally looked like it had been constructed for us," Wardell said. "It's a well-constructed building."

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