North Adams Community Schools officials have struck a tentative agreement that would transfer ownership of the former Monmouth Elementary School property to a regional service center operated under the auspices of the Indiana Department of Education. As part of the agreement approved Tuesday evening by the North Adams board of education, baseball diamonds and related facilities, along with a cemetery at the site, would become the property of Root Township.
North Adams Superintendent Wylie Sirk started the meeting by announcing to the school board that "the Region 8 Educational Service Center wants to acquire and move into the school building" which has set vacant since June.
A contract has been drawn up that would transfer ownership of the former Monmouth school building to the Region 8 board, and attorneys for that agency have given that document their preliminary approval, Sirk said. The Region 8 board of directors will meet to ratify the pact in the near future, he said.
The Region 8 Educational Service Center is one of nine such facilities throughout Indiana established to provide cooperative purchasing, technology assistance and staff development services for its member schools. The Region 8 ECS serves 33 public school districts and 11 private schools in 15 counties.
The service center currently is housed in Columbia City, but is being forced out of its present facilities due to building needs in the Whitley County school district. Sirk said 10 employees will make the move to Adams County.
"We are fortunate to have a profitable group wanting to take over this (Monmouth) building and add to our local economy," Sirk said.
Sirk said the Region 8 board has tentatively agreed reimburse North Adams for costs associated with preparing the property for sale — not to exceed $7,375. That figure represents the local school district's annual membership fees in the Region 8 consortium.
The only other financial benefit to the North Adams school district surrounding the transfer of the Monmouth property to the Region 8 group is one of cost avoidance, mainly in the form of routine maintenance and upkeep. It will also allow the school board to sidestep the cost of demolishing the building at some point in the future. Those costs have been estimated at $250,000.
The Region 8 group has agreed to provide a permanent easement for access to the Monmouth baseball diamonds, and will also continue to provide water and sewer service to the baseball association at no cost.
North Adams board members, prior to authorizing the transfer agreement contract for submittal to the Region 8 board, briefly discussed inserting language that would grant a "right of first refusal" to the local school to reacquire the Monmouth property should it become vacant at some point in the future.
"What would we be out" by inserting such language? asked Board President Michelle Stimpson.
"Perhaps this whole deal," replied board member Tim Ehlerding, pointing out that other school buildings throughout the region are being shuttered and could become potential sites for the Region 8 facility if North Adams drags its feet. "I don't want to lose this deal. I don't want to lose the opportunity to rid ourselves of a building."
"Let's not jeopardize this and let's go with what was presented," said board member Juan Gutierrez.
By a 5-0 vote, the board did just that.
The school board voted 4-1 during its April meeting to close Monmouth Elementary at the end of the 2009-2010 school year. The move was one of several made by the board in an attempt to reduce the school district's annual operating budget after the state of Indiana trimmed district funding by $850,000 this year.
The school closing is expected to save the school corporation nearly $500,000 annually, North Adams officials have said.
A special finance committee comprised of district residents and appointed by North Adams school officials early this year had submitted a list of proposed cost-cutting measures to the board. The committee recommended that one elementary building be closed in an attempt to better utilize classroom space throughout the school district. The committee stopped short of recommending which school should be closed, leaving that decision up to board members.
The 4-1 vote in April, with board member Michelle Stimpson the lone dissenter, paved the way for the sale of the property.
Acting on the recommendation of their attorney, Scott Ainsworth, board mbmers voted in August to authorize school officials to obtain a survey and appraisals for the site.
At last month's meeting, North Adams business manager Larry Carty reported that Miller Land Surveying of Monroe had been contracted to conduct a survey of the former Monmouth School property, a first step in readying the site for sale. Sirk at that time said there was "some interest out there" for the possible purchase of the property and building.