East Aurora in talks to buy old Waubonsee campus
By Kalyn Belsha and Stephanie Lulay firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com January 24, 2014 2:03PM
A for sale sign occupies window space at Waubonsee Community College's downtown Aurora center. The building is closing this week as the college moves a short distance to its new campus that opens June 1. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 27, 2014 6:42AM
AURORA — East Aurora School District is in talks to purchase the former Waubonsee campus in the city’s downtown, according to the district’s School Board president.
East Aurora School Board President Annette Johnson said the district entered a proposal about a month ago to buy the property for $1.5 million. The property would house East Aurora administrators and eventually a high school program that could bring 500 high school students downtown, she said Friday.
The property went up for sale after Wisconsin-based developer Gorman & Company backed out of an agreement in December to purchase the two buildings at 5 E. Galena Blvd. and 14-20 S. Stolp Ave. Before they pulled out of the purchase, Gorman planned to turn the buildings into a mixed-use space for residential lofts, retail and workspaces.
Waubonsee resumed marketing the property after the deal felt through, according to Waubonsee spokesman Jim Sibley.
When asked about the pending East Aurora purchase, Sibley said Friday that “there are no further details to release at this time.”
Johnson said after the property came on the market the district jumped at the chance to make an offer, as it was long on the district’s list of potential properties to buy for long-term expansion.
Architects have advised the district to buy and rehab existing structures instead of building new schools, Johnson said, because of the limited space to build inside the district’s boundaries. Johnson said the district has been hesitant to buy land from homeowners, which would decrease the district’s property tax base.
If Waubonsee approves the district’s offer, which is the same price the Wisconsin developer offered, Johnson said the property could house the district’s administrators as soon as next school year. Right now the district’s approximately 110 administrators are spread out between two buildings.
That physical divide makes it hard for administrators to hold meetings and communicate, Johnson said. With a new superintendent slated to start this summer, Johnson said, the district wanted a unified space.
Housing those workers downtown would bring vendors to the area, Johnson said, and would bring patrons to downtown eateries.
The second phase of the project would be to house about 500 high-performing students in the building who are pursuing engineering, technology and health care professions as part of the Pathways to Prosperity project, according to Johnson.
The building would not be ready to house students this coming school year, she said, because the curriculum is still in the early phases of development.
“It puts the kids on a true career path,” Johnson said.
Housing some East Aurora students downtown would help alleviate overcrowding at East Aurora High School, Johnson said. It is possible that high school students from outside East Aurora could attend school in the downtown building, Johnson said.
West Aurora spokesman Mike Chapin said Friday that if a collaborative educational program between the two school districts is developed, it is possible that West Aurora students could attend school in the downtown building. A program has not been developed yet, Chapin said.
“We’re open to collaborative ideas with East Aurora on improving education for our students, and having (those ideas) discussed with our school board,” Chapin said.
Cordogan, Clark & Associates, East’s architectural firm, is working on a design for the administration part of the property. The firm has agreed to waive its fees if Waubonsee does not accept the district’s proposal, Johnson said.
This is not the first time the idea has been floated to house students on the former Waubonsee campus.
Mayor Tom Weisner announced in March 2013, before the Gorman deal, that the city planned to buy the two Waubonsee buildings to create a technical training center with Waubonsee and East Aurora, West Aurora, Indian Prairie 204 and Oswego 308 school districts partnering on the project. About one-third of the building space was to be leased to East Aurora as district offices under that plan.