With building needs handled, should district sell site it’s owned for decades?
With the decision made to create a modern high school on its current site and build an addition onto Dunwiddie Elementary School, is it time for the Port Washington-Saukville School District to sell an undeveloped school site it’s been holding onto for decades?
Good question, officials said Monday.
“It will be somewhat of a difficult decision, but you need to think about how much longer the district should hold onto this vacant land before we turn it over to the tax rolls and generate some revenue for the district from the sale of the land,” Supt. Michael Weber told the School Board Building and Grounds Committee.
The land in question is a 54-acre parcel north of Highway 33 and east of Highway LL in the City of Port Washington that officials said the district acquired more than 30 years ago. The property is flanked by the Spinnaker West subdivision to the south and Woods at White Pine development to the west.
The district currently leases the property to Century Acres Inc., which farms the land. The lease expires in December 2016.
The district has held onto the property for decades as an insurance policy against growth, and with studies and proposals through the years that called for significant residential development, it was a welcome peace of mind.
But some projects, like the sprawling VK Development subdivision planned for the south side of the city, never materialized, and what growth has occurred didn’t overwhelm schools with students.
“A city development plan at one point projected fairly significant growth in Port Washington, and again the school board thought we should hang onto the property,” Weber said. “But here we are, eight to 10 years later, and that growth hasn’t happened. The city has grown, but not to the extent that was projected.”
And in April, the approval of a $49.4 million referendum settled the debate over whether to commit to the current high school site or look for a new location for Port High. In addition, the school improvement plan will provide for an addition at Dunwiddie Elementary School to alleviate overcrowding in the primary grade levels.
“All the reasons we’ve been hanging onto the property began falling away with the passage of the referendum,” Weber said.
If there are reasons to hang onto the land, school officials said, they include the fact that there are plans for new residential developments in Port, and vacant parcels large enough to accommodate a school are scarce.
Most notably, plans for the Cedar Vineyard subdivision on former VK Development land call for 82 homes to be built beginning next year.
The city is also preparing to sell 44 acres of former We Energies land on the Lake Michigan bluff immediately south of the power plant for development.
But there is no sign yet that the district will need another school to accommodate increases in enrollment, and there is room on all of its elementary school sites to expand current buildings, school officials said.
And selling the property, which nestled among subdivisions is a logical place for residential growth, could benefit both the district and the city financially. Selling it to a private developer would put the land on the tax rolls and, when developed, would add value to the tax base. It could also net a significant amount of money for the school district.
The decision, school officials said, will likely come down to what the property is worth.
“I think it’s a very desirable location for residential development,” school board member Brenda Fritsch said.
She noted, however, that although the economy and housing market are showing signs of life, developers may still be wary of major undertakings.
“Development and new homes are on the uptick, but it may take some time for developers to want to take on significant projects,” Fritsch said.
The district is working with Moegenburg Research Inc., a Brookfield real estate appraisal and consulting firm, to determine the value and marketability of the land.
“Keeping the land is not a financial burden to the district,” Weber said, noting the district receives a small amount of revenue from leasing the property, “but the question is, is it necessary to continue holding onto it or do we sell it at top market value?”