Gateway board inching slowly toward development of junior high
The Gateway school board is looking a lot like it wants to sell one of its buildings.
About a year ago it hired a real estate company to market Gateway Middle School. It asked Monroeville in November to rezone the land to increase its sales value as a commercial property. And, in January, it paid a company to appraise the property.
The saga has put many on edge, and some residents showed up to a meeting recently to express concerns.
“The school district has to know what they want to do with that property,” said former Gateway school board member Robert Elms. “If you don't have a plan, you shouldn't be making decisions.”
Elms also criticized the board for its attempt — which so far has been denied by the municipality — to have the property rezoned from residential to commercial.
“When you decide to sell a building, then you go to the real estate agency and get them to rezone it C-2,” Elms said.
Councilman Ron Harvey, who represents the ward where the property is, has said he wants to know what would replace the school before he votes to rezone it.
“The main reason why we're here is the rezoning issue,” Harvey said. “I didn't want to rezone it C-2 until I knew what was going there.”
Resident Jeanette Beighel said she was more worried about where her three elementary-aged children would attend middle school if Gateway is sold.
“This affects my children specifically,” she said. “I would be more comfortable with knowing what the plan is moving forward.”
Too costly to maintain
Board members and district administration have said the reason for selling the property is simple: maintaining the 63-year-old building is too costly. Same goes for Moss Side Middle School.
And as fewer students occupy district buildings due to a national trend in declining enrollment, it makes sense to build a school that would combine grades 6, 7 and 8 — which are now in the two middle schools, board member Steve O'Donnell said.
That plan would include tearing down Moss Side and sending its fifth-graders to district elementaries, he said. The rest of the students from both of the middle schools would be housed in a new junior high school.
“A new facility would save the district hundreds of thousands of dollars on maintenance, transportation, utilities, staffing and administrative overhead,” said O'Donnell, who also chairs the buildings and grounds committee. “It's much more efficient to move in this direction than it is to maintain the facilities.”
But nothing, including the plans outlined above, is definite, he said.
Technically, Gateway Middle School is not being sold — that decision would require a public hearing about closing the school, which hasn't happened. But school directors have said they've received four inquiries about the property since real estate company 360 Group of Pittsburgh was hired in April.
School board members say they want to test the waters to see what kind of money the middle school would bring if they are able to lure a commercial buyer.
Board President Scott Williams said the plan has been to see how much the district could receive from the sale of the property to put toward developing the junior high.
But going through that process could take years, Superintendent Bill Short has said. He has also said that Gateway Middle School would be open for the 2018-19 school year.
Meanwhile, real estate company 360 Group is working to attract buyers for the property. The district hired the company last year at a rate of $2,500 a month, but isn't required to start making payments until “the anticipated date of the rezoning,” according to the contract, O'Donnell said. The company will also receive a 1 percent commission when the property is sold.