(Independent Photo/Karen Mead-Elford)
by Karen Mead-Elford, co-editor
The Owosso Public Schools Board of Education is one step closer to entering into a $500,000 purchase agreement with Community Housing Network (CHN) for the sale of the Owosso Middle School property. The board will vote on the agreement at the Monday, Feb. 24 meeting in the OHS media center on North Street.
Superintendent Dr. Andrea Tuttle has been negotiating with C.J. Felton, director of real estate development at CHN, since last fall. The approval of the 2017 bond proposal, moving the middle school campus from Water Street to North Street, where it will be utilized for both the middle school and high school, will leave the Water Street location vacant. Tuttle and the school district have a strong working relationship with the city of Owosso, so careful consideration has been given to the future of the building located in the downtown area, with a number of city staff and representatives involved.
A significant hurdle revealed during the negotiation process is the northwest corner of the structure sits within the 100-year floodplain – a concern for CHN, a nonprofit organization with broad plans to use OMS as a multi-purpose building, because of the need to secure funding through grants. It was suggested during the OPS board meeting on Monday, Jan. 27 that the agreement might not be reached until 2022, though all parties are hopeful that it will happen sooner.
The 100-year floodplain was also a concern for the redevelopment of the Owosso Armory, though that project had only a 3-inch depth issue whereas the OMS building has roughly a 3-foot issue, according to details discussed during the OPS Committee of the Whole board meeting earlier in January.
During the Monday evening regular board meeting, Tuttle shared CHN has extended its grant application deadline until October as they are working through engineering details related to the 100-year floodplain concern. As it stands now, the costs in dealing with the issue will come from the $150,000 Consumer’s Energy grant awarded last December.
Tuttle also shared that construction on the North Street campus is now ahead of schedule, partially because of mild winter weather conditions. The board is hopeful that students might be able to move out of the OMS building to the new campus, possibly by fall, though that will leave the Water Street site vacant at that time. Tuttle and CHN have arrived at an agreement related to ensuing costs in building maintenance once the building is empty.
The CHN plan in purchasing the 4.5-acre middle school site is similar to the Lincoln House redevelopment a few years back. There are numerous steps in the process for CHN to officially make the purchase, and though the organization has a sound reputation in advancing similar projects, there is not a guarantee all of the details and grant writing will align. Obviously, all parties are working toward that end, though.
Felton stated that CHN believes the amphitheater at the north end of the OMS site will be an amenity to new residents and is committed to continuing work with the city on amphitheater use. He described some of the mixed-use plans, including the licensed kitchen, which could still be used by outside sources/partnerships. He shared that community partners have expressed interest in the gymnasium and the auditorium, so he is looking forward to seeing what develops.
“We have only ever just done housing, so the chance to do a mixed-use development with bringing community partners in and working together, those are really neat projects to work on,” Felton said.
He also said the project will include “mixed income housing,” supplying one and two-bedroom units, conducive to small families, retirees and the workforce population. Unit size is defined by the size of the classrooms.
As for the floodplain concern, Felton stated it is too early to know. He explained that an engineer and consultant have surveyed both sides of the river, with additional surveying work yet to come before a plan of action is recommended.
“The river is such a cool asset,” he said.