Archive for Thursday, January 27, 2005

School Board searches for clues to Learning Center land ownership

January 27, 2005

Love mysteries? Check out a school board meeting.

Members of the Eudora USD 491 Board of Education are trying to put together the pieces of an 87-year-old puzzle, if only they can figure out which pieces of that puzzle they have to work with.

School District records from almost a century ago show that in 1918 the Eudora Rural School District purchased 25 lots of land at the corner of 10th and Main streets.

Another document from almost 40 years later indicated the city of Eudora gave five lots of the same land to the school district in 1954, with the stipulation that ownership would revert back to the city if the property was ever used for anything besides education. The Community Learning Center, which was originally a public school, was constructed shortly after the city gave the land to the School District in 1954.

What happened between 1918 and 1954 was a mystery to the School Board, and neither the district nor the city had records indicating any transfer of ownership from the School District to the city during that time. Without a record of the city owning the property, it was not known how the city could have had the authority to give the property away and to make rules about its use.

The School District's attorney, John Immel, recently began a title search at the Douglas County Courthouse to determine whether or not the city ever held a proper title to the land.

Eudora USD 491 Superintendent Marty Kobza said the issue surfaced as the School Board started long-range planning for properties within the district, responding to growth of the city and subsequent growth of the student population.

The Community Learning Center, which used to be a middle school, is now used by the Eudora-De Soto Technical Center for vocational training and for recreation programs offered by the city. Kobza said the facilities needed to be updated if the center continued to be used, and that it would cost $4 to $5 million to renovate the building. However, he said the building could probably only last about 15 more years after renovation and the School Board hesitated to make such an investment.

Kobza said the board had considered selling the Community Learning Center property and using the funds from the sale to build new facilities on the Eudora High School campus. By selling the property, new facilities could be built without using taxpayer money, he said.

The School District legally owns the Community Learning Center and all the surrounding land, but the city's potential hold on a portion of the land could complicate the sale of the property if the School Board decided to sell.

Kobza said the School Board might consider selling the property to commercial interests if it was legal to do so.

"It would be a nice piece of economic property for the city," he said. "It could serve to help revitalize the downtown. It's a key piece of property."

The School Board was only in preliminary stages of deciding what to do with the property, Kobza said. He said that no matter what Immel found in his title search the Board members would have to eventually sit down with the Council to discuss options.

"This is all contingent on whether or not the Board wants to go ahead and sell that property," Kobza said. "It could be a major landscape change in Eudora."

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