Colorado Springs school could become apartments for charter school teachers

February 12, 2014 Updated: February 13, 2014 at 5:16 am

The old Lincoln Elementary School at 2727 N. Cascade Ave. won't become a hub for philanthropic work but it will be turned into housing for teachers of Atlas Preparatory School.

The Colorado Springs School District 11 board of education voted 6-1 Wednesday night to sell the 44,333-square-foot building and 3-acre site to Atlas for $1.27 million.

The public charter school in Harrison School District 2 plans to renovate the 65-year-old building into housing for its teachers, as a supplement to their salary and compensation package.

The vision includes turning classrooms into individual apartments for teachers and the gym into a fitness center, and adding a small restaurant and coffee shopand a small museum dedicated to the history of Lincoln.

"We'e excited. The project seems to have a lot of potential," said Zach McComsey, founder and executive director of Atlas.

McComsey said the school, which has about 700 students and a staff of 65, is pursuing a number of funding options for the purchase.

The deal is expected to be finalized in November.

Lincoln closed in May 2013, due to declining enrollment. Local developer Bob Elliott had submitted a cash offer of $1.2 million for the property, which the D-11 board accepted in November.

Elliott wanted to create a mixed-use campus with nonprofit offices, low-cost senior housing and community performances in the gym and auditorium.

The transaction was supposed to close Jan. 31, but Elliott said he backed out of the deal because of a snafu.

The title is clouded, he said, because when the land was platted in the late 1800s, it included an alley, which was never built. Although the alley doesn't exist, the city never vacated it, so the city technically owns a 20-foot strip that runs through the middle of the building.

"It's on paper only and should be a quick administrative fix. But the city threw up roadblocks, and that's the kind of burden that should not be on us," Elliott said. "I'm so disappointed."

City Planner Steve Tuck said D-11 has applied for a vacation of the alley, which is scheduled to be considered by City Council on Feb. 25 and March 11.

"It'll be routine, and we don't expect any opposition," Tuck said. "It just takes time to go through the process."

The sale also drew complaints from a board member of the Old North End Neighborhood group. Becky Fuller, a parent of two D-11 students, objected to the property not having a competitive bidding process and called for the board to table the offer "until a transparent process has been followed."

"For some reason, they didn't want to do any kind of request for offer," she said in an interview. "From a neighborhood perspective, maybe housing for the charter school is the most awesome thing they can do with that building - but we don't know."

Glenn Gustafson, D-11's deputy superintendent and chief financial officer, said in an interview that the district has used different methods to sell its excess buildings.

"We have had requests for offers but we've also had people make us an offer without doing an RFO," Gustafson said.

That was the case with the Lincoln property, where potential buyers simply came forward.

"We did everything right and appropriate," Gustafson said.

Fuller also questioned whether the district was getting a reasonable price for Lincoln.

D-11 works with lawyers and obtained a broker's opinion and comparable sales figures to establish a fair market value, Gustafson said. The range: $28 to $32 per square foot. The Lincoln selling price: $28.32 per square foot.

"The mechanism they used to get to the $1.2 million is not a strong way to do it," said Fuller, a small business financier.

As a result of Fuller's concerns, D-11 may change its policy, Gustafson added, to let neighbors know about potential transactions.

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