School Board Update | Options for School District Property Discussed

Board of Education hears presentation from broker who shared an outline of a process he would recommend should the school district move forward with a land swap

PHOTO: Bill Glazier | News | South Pasadena Unified School District Headquarters

Board of Education members were provided key information Tuesday night as a real estate broker talked about what’s entailed should the South Pasadena Unified School District decide to pursue the concept of land swapping.

Making a presentation before the board was Sam Manoukian, a RE/MAX broker specializing in commercial property transactions, who shared an outline of a process he would recommend should the district move forward with a potential land swap of district property at 1020 El Centro Street in the city.

A land swap is a tool that empowers, in this regard, a school district to trade its owned site with a privately owned site of equal value.

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PHOTO: Sam Manoukian | | Sam Manoukian, a RE/MAX broker

During the Nov. 13 meeting, board members listened as Manoukian walked them through the stages of how a land swap could effectively support the South Pasadena Unified School District.

“In essence,” explained SPUSD Superintendent Geoff Yantz, “what happens is an interested developer for the property would go and purchase other commercial property that, perhaps, the school district would then swap with. Hypothetically, there’s a building somewhere else of equal value and then that property is swapped with us.”

The superintendent explained that the idea of swapping land is to ultimately find office space for district employees “that is able to effectively and efficiently administer the school system for many more decades without having to invest millions of dollars and restoring this facility, because it’s money we could spend elsewhere,” he said. “It could also mean that a developer purchases another site and we could temporarily move into that site. They develop this land, build us something, and we move back in [at this location].”

Yantz stressed that there are a lot of different scenarios, options and possibilities left to explore.

“The board just got a little deeper into a possible commitment in considering the execution of an RFP (request for proposal) for a land swap,” explained SPUSD Superintendent Geoff Yantz, noting that the board take up the issue again in December when two new school board members are introduced.

Leaving the South Pasadena Board of Education next month are Elisabeth Eilers, who decided not to run again in the Nov. 6 election after 13 years, and Julie Giulioni, who served five years but did not win her seat back. In a very tight race, the top three vote-getters were challengers Ruby Kalra, Zahir Robb and incumbent Michele Kipke, who will join current president Jon Primuth and Board Clerk Suzie Abajian, both of whom were not up for re-election, on the board. Giulioni finished fourth.

“The new board will have additional discussion on the land swap and provide direction on where we go from here,” said Yantz, adding that land swapping would provide “greater flexibility as far as options for the schools. It brings a developer in to work with the city and the community on what could be built here as opposed to the school district becoming the lead agency on the development project.”

On average, Manoukian said the process for a land swap takes about two years and input would come not only from the school district, but the City of South Pasadena and community members.

He added that a website would be set up to explain the exchange. In addition, mailers and multiple meetings, including a town hall meeting, would be held to discuss the land swap.

School board members wanted to make certain that information about potential construction or developments regarding a land swap successfully reach the public.

“It’s important to note it’s not an event, it’s a process,” said Yantz during the board meeting. “There will be initial outreach and then there will be more outreach and then there will be more community input. As the process plays out, there will be multiple moments with that in which the community and the city have influence and decision making.”

Mindful of the past when communication regarding an initial attempt to develop the school district parking lot with a propose 91-unit mixed use residential project, Board of Education President Jon Primuth added, “We definitely want to be sensitive to the community. We want to hear their input and make sure whatever transaction occurs is done with sensitivity to their concerns.”

About 10 years ago, the Board of Education took up an initiative to develop a long-term lease for the local school district aimed at creating an on-going revenue source.

At the same time the City of South Pasadena looked to the district to develop the property – calling the long gap along Mission Street between Diamond and Fairview avenues the ‘missing tooth’ – as the Mission Street Specific Plan was targeted by city officials as a means of increasing business in the area.

Recognizing the city’s interest in filling the gap where the school district’s parking lot currently exists, the Board of Education, under former Superintendent Joel Shapiro’s leadership, began exploring possibilities.

The school board went through an extended process of community input, need finding, development of a request for proposal (RFP), and competitive proposal evaluation. The board ultimately selected and engaged in an exclusive negotiating agreement with a developer to construct the large one and two bedroom complex in the SPUSD parking lot.

District officials worked solely with Legacy Partners, which hoped to construct “Mission Place” at the site after the exclusive negotiating agreement was reached.

As the process evolved, the developer refined its plans and several public meetings offered the community an opportunity to share feedback. Ultimately, it was determined that the project was neither in the districts nor the community’s best interest and the school board ended the process.