With enrollment dropping, the Payson School Board has approved the sale of Frontier Elementary School to the competing Payson Community Christian School (PCCS) at a fraction of what taxpayers spent to build it.
The board on Friday accepted an offer from the Christian school for FES at its fourth specially called meeting Friday, April 19.
However, it voted to keep the details under wraps until the deal has completely closed. The board had earlier rejected two offers for less than the $1.25 million value it had set on the school site, which has not been appraised.
“An interested party has submitted an offer,” said Superintendent Ron Hitchcock before the board’s vote, “but details of the offer will not be discussed ... pending legal reviews of the contract.”
The board refused to divulge even the name of the party making the offer, but the Payson Christian School Principal Patricia Fleeger happily admitted the PUSD board had agreed to its offer.
“I heard about this before the district (PUSD) officially called (on Friday),” said Fleeger. On Fridays she has a field day with the kids and so missed the noon meeting, but she said the town lines of communication filled the gap.
Fleeger said she has not heard the details regarding the funding, but Hitchcock said the reason the board had called four special meetings in the past two months was to reaffirm its $1.25 million cash asking price.
Presumably, PCCS has now agreed to the board’s price.
During the public meeting portion of the Frontier sale process earlier in the year, the only group to offer cash was the Payson Community Christian School. The private school had initially offered a combination of cash and land.
The PUSD board felt secure enough about the sale to start spending the money it anticipates getting.
The board agreed to spend most of the money to expand the classroom capacity at Payson Elementary School (PES).
“Our staff tells us we need two dedicated classrooms in order to have all-day kindergarten,” said Director of Facilities Todd Poore.
All-day kindergarten is a hot button for board president Barbara Underwood. The board has included achieving that goal in its priorities for the year based on research showing it will likely boost test scores at PES and reduce the number of students held back because of poor reading skills.
Besides the added classrooms, Poore said PES staff has suggested building an auditorium for assemblies. Currently, PES uses its cafeteria, which can barely hold one grade level of students.
Poore said the board must consider the future of the district and how to boost student achievement before breaking ground on any PES project.
At Friday’s meeting, the board also approved the sale of all Frontier’s equipment and furniture, minus the books.
“Eileen Lawson, the old (Frontier) librarian, will go through the books to see if the district can take the books at school libraries,” said Poore.
Community member Carolyn Wilson had expressed concern about the books during the constituent comment period. She hoped the district would not just throw out the books.
“Books are important,” she said. “If you can’t read, you can’t vote, you can’t do anything.”
She offered to take some of the books just to save them.
Underwood said principals from the PUSD schools would go through the building Friday afternoon to make sure nothing the schools could currently use went on the auction block.
Poore said he will publish a list of the inventory in various places, including the Roundup.
Fleeger said she’s excited about the purchase of the ready-to-go school site. “We do look for an increase in enrollment,” she said. “People from the Valley and California want more of what they are used to seeing,” she said of the rented facilities they currently have at the First Southern Baptist Church. Fleeger said she anticipates the Christian school having its own facilities will make a difference.
Fleeger also looks forward to hosting sporting events. We’ve always had to go away for our volleyball and basketball games, now we can host them at home,” she said.
Fleeger said she does not anticipate renovating FES as the district made upgrades before the site was mothballed, including spending nearly $700,000 for upgrades from a still-not-paid-off bond issue.
She said building inspectors have already given her organization the thumbs up to the purchase.
“I’m excited,” she said of the sale.
Fleeger said the deal must still get through all the closing procedures, including approval by the town for continued use of the property as a school site. The land has a high-density residential zoning, suitable for mobile home parks. However, schools have an exemption from town zoning restrictions.
“We’ve asked that question a lot,” she said. “We will go in front of the town to just make sure a private school does not have different zoning requirements than a public school.”
She said neighbors living near Frontier have contacted her to express their relief another school will go into the site.
Sheila DeSchaaf, from the Town of Payson’s Community Development Department, said so long as PCCS does not expand the current site, it will not need any additional zoning.
“If it were an undeveloped property, the school would have to get zoning permits to build,” said DeSchaaf.
She said since PUSD is a public school district, the town has no zoning control, but it does over PCCS. Since PCCS has no plans to expand at the moment, the town would not require the private school to obtain any additional permits to move in and do business.
Fleeger hopes all the I’s are dotted and the T’s crossed by the start of the school year at the end of July.
The Christian school’s Web site (www.paysonchristianschool.org) says it started in 1986 as an interdenominational Christian pre-school. It now accepts students from pre-school through high school.