Gettys Middle Sale -- Discussed Enough?
By Alex Saitta
February 17, 2014 with a May 11, 2014 Update
There has been a lot of mis-information the last couple of weeks, and this WSPA7 story is a good example in my opinion. Here a parent (Robin Nelson Miller) seems to be making the claim the school board is moving too quickly on the prospective sale of Gettys Middle School.
I imagine those who just started to pay attention to the sale of the old Gettys Middle School at the tail end, may feel the process has been a short one. The process has been going on for 8 months now, and is still going, and has been chock full of public information disseminated at board meetings and in the press.
Watching the TV report, I wondered where Mrs. Miller and others have been the past 8 months on this issue. The few people I've talked to, other trustees and a reporter or two, no one remembers her being involved in this issue or attending any of the meetings. From July when board members first started talking about the sale, through all the public board meetings in the late summer, fall and early winter where the subject was talked about, she didnít contact me, nor call me. Actually, the first time Iíve seen Robin Nelson Miller was on the WSPA7 report from the February 4th meeting.
Overall, I think it is common knowledge the School District of Pickens County has undertaken a massive building program. As new schools have been built, old ones were closed and those abandoned properties have been sold -- beit Dacusville Elementary, Liberty Middle, Simpson, LHS football field, and others. To sell an abandoned Gettys Middle was just one more step in what the board/ district has done for three years now.
The old Gettys Middle School was officially closed in June of last year, and all Easleyís middle school students started the 2013-14 school year at the new Gettys Middle in August. Anyone who drove past the old school saw the sign was taken down and the portable classrooms were being carted off.
The board at public meetings received loads of information on the school from the cost to renovate that building ($12.8 million up to about $17 million, depending on the extent of the renovation), to an asbestos report on the building to the cost to demolish the building (about $600,000).
In late summer, the board and administration started talking about selling the old Gettys at board meetings. It was then the board started to gather more information. As summer turned to fall, the district administration presented to the board the cost to warehouse the building ($200,000 was the estimate), and told us how the vacant building was being broken into periodically. The newspapers reported on this and the board started to receive public input on the prospective sale -- at board meetings, via phone calls and emails, and letters to the editor were written.
In early fall the contents of the school were auctioned as the board had voted to set the auction date at the September board meeting and the public was notified about the auction as well.
In October our attorney and the superintendent said, if we are going to sell the school, it must be declared surplus and the board voted to do that at the October board meeting, putting the building up for sale. This was reported by the press.
About that time the administration received the first and only bid on the property. The board debated the subject and voted to table that bid at the November meeting because we didnít have an updated appraisal, and we thought we might need to move the Easley bus depot which is located on the Gettys campus. At that meeting we had more public input on the sale and another wave of newspaper articles was written.
In December there was a special called board meeting on the sale. I had hoped the board would vote up or down the bid it received. At this meeting the board received more information, and it was discussed publicly. For instance, it would cost $500,000 to move the bus depot.
Talking with other board members, I had the sense some were against the sale, some still wanted more time and others wanted a higher price and wanted to see the appraisal, so I made a motion to counter offer the building for $300,000 and remove the bus depot from the sale. That motion was voted down. That vote did not remove the building from the surplus list or take it off the market. It was (and is) still for sale.
Just after the January board meeting the appraisal came in and it seems a majority of the board members had all the information they needed to make a decision on lone bid the board had received.
Trustee Jim Shelton said he wanted to have another meeting to talk about considering the lone bid on the building, and I was hoping the board would give an up or down vote on it. That meeting was scheduled for early-February.
Before that meeting the district received another two bids on the property, and the board decided to have the administration look at them all and report back to the board in March of 2014.
In March 2014 the board voted 3 to 2 to vote to offer the property with contingencies to one of those who bid on the property for a price of $300,000. In April the contract was signed and is scheduled to close May 30, 2014.
To me, the notion this process was too quick wasn't the driving reason in my opinion. The board sold Dacusville Elementary and Liberty Middle when both still had students in them. Those processes were much shorter and no one complained they were too fast or didnít have enough public input. One, I think some in Easley still want a second middle school, and if this school is sold, that will be less likely. Two, others opposed the sale because was the initial bid and the only bid for months was from a charter school.
Easley's enrollment is not growing much. Gettys enrollment has risen about 50 students in ten years. The new Gettys, with the addition of its new wing, will have have more than enough capacity for the students in the school. Intense, a 5th through 8th grade charter school, is scheduled to open in August with an aim of 120 students, and a hope to grow to 280.
The potential sale being to a charter school was secondary in my mind. I felt the district could use the money from the sale for other building needs and it was wise to unload a vacant building that is costing the districts thousands a year to warehouse. That was the driving reasoning in my mind. Later on as I learned more about charter schools and Legacy in particular, I realized some students in this county might be better educated there, that could also help our district. From that angle, I saw the sale as a potential plus too. Myself, I would have chartered the school under our school district and worked together with them to combat the low graduation rate in this county. I was in a small minority having that approach.