Baldwin school district receives two proposals to buy, redevelop Chapel Street properties
The old Baldwin middle school would see a new life as an entrepreneur incubator should the USD 348 school board approve either of two proposals submitted Wednesday for the purchase and reuse of the district’s Chapel Street properties.
Earlier this month, the Baldwin school district mailed seven letters to parties with an interest in buying the old three-story middle school, South Gymnasium and surrounding campus on the 700 block of Chapel Street. The letters requested proposals to buy and redevelop the properties be returned Wednesday.
Responding were Kansas City, Mo., developer Tony Krsnich, whose rehabilitation of two warehouses in east Lawrence helped rejuvenate the surrounding neighborhood as an arts district, and Free State Broadband, a company the owners of the Baldwin City tech company Reflective Group founded in June with the goal of bringing gigabit fiber cable to Baldwin City and Lawrence.
The school board will consider the two proposals and hear from their submitters at a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the district office, 708 Chapel St. The board could accept one of the proposals, reject both or enter into negotiations with one of the parties.
Free State offered to pay $70,000 for the Chapel Street properties, while Krsnich offered $90,000.
The board emphasized in its request for proposals that while money was important, other factors would be considered. Those included a demonstrated ability to pay for and develop the properties, the redevelopment plan’s benefit to the community and a schedule to redevelop the properties. The board also stipulated a Dec. 31 closing date on the sale.
Both proposals would use part of the old school building for an entrepreneur incubator, which would make communal office space and offices available to small and start-up businesses, while providing them with conference rooms and basic business necessities such as Internet, copier, printer and scanner as part of their rent.
The reuse proposals differ on how they would use the building’s remaining space. The Free State proposal states it would spend $500,000 to renovate the old school to meet its occupancy needs and would occupy the building “as soon as possible.” The bottom floor would be the home of Free State Broadband and expanded Reflective Group operations.
The Free State proposal said that in addition to the incubator, tenants of the top floors would be a software company and non-profits associated with Reflective Group. The plan also proposes making office space available to non-profits benefiting the community at a reduced rate.
Reflective Group CEO Mike Bosch said Friday the $500,000 was the first investment in the renovation and would repair the building's roof, install an elevator and make basic renovations needed for Free State to move in the building.
Krsnich’s proposal would convert much of the old school into living quarters.
“Almost everyone I have talked to expresses a lack of rental housing on the market,” Krsnich wrote. “I believe there are several employees at Baker University who do not live in Baldwin City but would if a quality product was delivered at the School House.”
Both proposals would convert the South Gym into a recreation center. Krsnich’s plan suggests that could be done in conjunction with art studios and that both uses would involve Baker University. The surrounding property was an ideal site for an organic garden, such as those on his east Lawrence development, Krsnich wrote. A developer of green projects, the renovations would include solar panels and electric car recharge stations, he wrote.
Free State would partner with the Baldwin Athletic Club owner George McCrary to establish a “community center” in the South Gym. The plan would dissolve the Baldwin Athletic Club to establish revenue to create a Baldwin Community Living Center in the South Gym.
Krsnich said Thursday he would stress to the board Monday his successful track record in the award-winning redevelopment of historic properties. He said he had put together redevelopment deals involving multiple partners and making use of federal tax credits that involved more money than the $5 million he estimated it will cost to renovate the Chapel Street properties.
The board’s Dec. 31 closing deadline on the properties was doable but maybe not in the school district or the community’s best interest, Krsnich said. The concern was not raising $90,000 for the purchase of the properties but creating a redevelopment plan that was satisfactory to the board, city, community and Baker, he said.
Krsnich said, for example, he knew there was a shortage of rental housing in Baldwin City but didn’t know if the demand was for single-bedroom apartments or larger condominiums. Those kinds of details would be found through community involvement, he said.
Bosch said he would pitch to the board a local company's proven track record of bringing jobs to Baldwin City and the future benefits Free State Broadband would provide the community.