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Public hearing set for Monday on sale of North Grand building

The North Grand building, formerly the Charles City Middle School. File photo
The North Grand building, formerly the Charles City Middle School. File photo

Read here: North Grand option agreement

By Kate Hayden, khayden@charlescitypress.com

Monday’s Board of Education meeting may be the last chance for Charles City residents to share feedback on the future of the historic North Grand building, formerly the school district’s middle school.

Community members can submit written comments before the public hearing or speak on Monday before board members decide whether to take action on a proposed sale of the building to developer Charley Thomson for $1.

The meeting is at 6:30 p.m. in the seventh grade learning studio at the Charles City Middle School.

“June 12 is the night the board needs to hear from the public,” Superintendent Dan Cox told the Press. “(The board) could choose to wait another two weeks to offer more time for the public to look at the proposal, but they could also just go to an action item” after the public hearing.

Thomson is proposing purchasing the entire North Grand building, then leasing the eastern wing back to the Charles City Community School District.

Built in 1970, the eastern addition to the building houses the former pool and current classrooms for Iowa BIG North, the Carrie Lane High School program and the Homeschool Assistance program.

Thomson is also including the building’s auditorium in the lease agreement with the district. The lease would run for three years with options to renew.

The rest of the building, including the current district administration offices, could potentially be renovated into residential apartments, Thomson said. Administrative offices would likely be moved to the eastern wing.

“It gives the school board a lot of flexibility, and it also preserves the option for someone to come in with a great idea to renovate the more modern portion,” Thomson said.

The legal document describes an ownership arrangement between North Grand Building LLC (known as NGB) and North Grand Benevolent, Literary, Eleemosynary, Education, Scientific and Charitable Institution Inc. (known as North Grand Charitable). Both institutions are represented by Thomson.

“The reason we have two entities is the not-for-profit (North Grand Charitable) takes ownership of the entire structure, and the for-profit entity (NGB) obtains the title to the western portion to redevelop that into apartments,” Thomson said.

“The western portion will start contributing to tax rolls. We want that to happen, that’s good for the city,” he said.

North Grand Charitable would lease the eastern portion to the school district at operating cost. Although the long-term future of the addition is not predicted in the option agreement, “Anything that’s going to become a community center will be in the eastern portion,” Thomson said.

Keeping that portion of the building under non-profit ownership would “preserve the not-for-profit character of the building,” Thomson said. “It is going to continue in part as a building with a public, civic use.”

The Board of Education has not discussed where school district administrative offices or other programs would relocate to after a three-year lease, Cox said.

“Where it makes sense to go is something the board would have to decide in the next year — either as part of the Phase II (high school renovation) proposal or as something different,” Cox said.

The public hearing comes nearly two years after Thomson and his investment partners first considered purchasing the North Grand building, Thomson said.

“The overarching vision has not changed at all,” he said. “I think everybody at the table shares a concern that the community has of the western section, making sure it retains its architectural integrity. It’s one of the real gems of Iowa.”

The Board of Education heard a separate presentation for the North Grand building’s future during a workshop by Zachary Mannheimer of McClure Engineering Co. on May 30. Mannheimer suggested a community study exploring concepts of non-profit and for-profit businesses within the renovated building; he also pitched the idea to the Charles City Council during a separate workshop that Tuesday.

Thomson was not in attendance at either meeting. He said he was familiar with Mannheimer’s presentation, but he declined to comment further.

After receiving public comment Monday night, the Board of Education must decide which path to take — whether to pursue either option separately, to combine the options, or to table any action on the building for further discussion.

“It’s been a pretty thorough process, given the length of time that it’s taken to get to this point,” Cox said. “The board is certainly interested in receiving public comment as to what they would like to see moving forward.”

Any written public comment can be submitted to Board of Education Secretary Terri O’Brien before Monday’s meeting at tobrien@charles-city.k12.ia.us. The public is also invited to speak at the hearing.

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