Decatur City Schools will achieve its goal of getting all Central Office personnel in one location by moving its downtown headquarters about three blocks south to the former Central Baptist Church property.
The city school board approved Tuesday paying $200,000 and exchanging two properties, including its current headquarters, to acquire the education wing of the former church property from Parker Real Estate Co.
The school system's existing headquarters is across Fourth Avenue from City Hall at Lee Street Northeast. The new headquarters is parallel to Grant Street Southeast at Fourth Avenue. The other building involved in the exchange is the school system's special services building at 910 Wilson St.
DCS chief financial officer Melanie Maples said the two school system buildings are valued at $1.235 million for the exchange. The education wing is being acquired for $1.435 million.
The board also approved DCS leasing its existing headquarters and the Wilson Street property from Parker Real Estate for $12,143 per month for up to 14 months, which is the estimated time Superintendent Michael Douglas said it will take to complete renovations for the new headquarters.
If the school district needs to lease the space for more than 14 months, the cost will drop to $7,500 per month.
“This is a good move for the school district because it will get all of our leaders in one place and under one roof,” Douglas said. “We’re going to be more efficient as a school district.”
The superintendent said the move will help the city because several entities, including backers of a potential hotel, had approached the school system about its headquarters property because it is at the same intersection as the Cook Museum of Natural Science, which opened in June.
Parker Real Estate owner Jeff Parker did not attend the school board meeting and was not available to comment.
Douglas said he didn’t know for certain what the existing school headquarters will be used for, but he said it doesn't appear a hotel is planned.
The church building was 87 years old and had been unused for five years when Parker acquired it and 2.2 acres in July 2016 from Progress Bank for less than the $550,000 list price, he said at the time.
Parker razed the sanctuary, but saved a two-story, 18,000-square-foot building that houses a fellowship hall and a 28,000-square-foot education facility.
In 2018, Eagle Consulting purchased the top floor of the fellowship hall building for offices.
Parker turned the bottom floor into an event center and culinary kitchen called The Albany.
The old church education building was being marketed as a site for a “downtown Decatur redevelopment opportunity” and Parker’s asking price was $1.8 million.
Maples said the school system’s headquarters and Wilson Street property appraised together for $900,000, but had a higher value for the exchange.
“We have talked about this for years, and this is the best opportunity for all our Central Office employees to be under one roof,” she said.
Maples estimates that it will cost about $3.5 million to renovate the Grant Street building.
“We’re getting what is basically a bare bones building,” she said, adding that the district has money saved to pay for the renovations and has been planning to acquire a building for staff consolidation for more than a decade.
Maples could not remember the year, but DCS sold a building on Johnston Street for $285,000 and the old post office on Bank Street for $375,000.
“Every time we sold a building, directors and employees were moved to another location,” Maples said. “We started with employees in four different buildings. We’re all going to be in one.”
She said employees in the central office and the 30 employees in the Special Services building on Wilson Street will not move until renovations on the Grant Street building are complete.
School board vice president Donnie Lane said DCS had outgrown its current headquarters and the agreement with Parker is millions of dollars cheaper than the cost of buying land and constructing a new central office.
Before making the lease part of the agreement, Maples said the school system looked at several options, but nothing seemed practical because the district’s technology hub is housed in the current central office.
She said it was going to cost about $250,000 to relocate the hub, plus the current central office needs a new HVAC system that’s estimated to cost about $2.4 million.
Maples said after both parties sign the agreement, DCS will hire architects to design the new headquarters' interior before sending the project out for bids.
“We think we can get this done in 14 months,” she said.