YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

School Land Is a Tough Sell Despite Its Allure

February 07, 1985|MARC IGLER | Times Staff Writer

Weeds have pushed through the cracks in its vast asphalt playground, teen-agers have spray painted the names of their favorite rock groups on its walls and one of its buildings has been partially gutted by an intentionally set fire.

But Glendale School District officials are less concerned about the ramshackle condition of the vacant Field Elementary School than they are with the land it sits on.

The property, on Central Avenue just north of Glenoaks Boulevard, has been called "a real peach" by one prominent developer. City Councilman Jerold Milner has labeled it the most desirable piece of available property in Glendale. And the land is considered by many to be the district's largest unused asset.

But finding a developer willing to build on the 4.8-acre site has not been easy. Since negotiations to lease the property for nearly $400,000 a year to a Los Angeles firm recently broke down, district officials have found themselves back where they were in 1981 when the 60-year-old school was closed because of declining enrollment.

The district needs the money, either from a lease or sale of the property, to restore programs that were cut from the budget in recent years because of a reduction in state funding.

Reconsidering Offer

This month, school board members will begin reconsidering the terms of their offer to developers, who have been hesitant to enter into a contract because the district wants to lease the property rather than sell it, said district Superintendent Robert Sanchis.

Before the breakdown in the most recent negotiations with a developer, district officials had been counting on using the money to restore the sixth period in the seventh and eighth grades. Parents have been calling for such a move since the classroom time was eliminated four years ago in a budget reduction move.

But because he is anticipating increased state funding and possible revenues from the state lottery, Sanchis said he will include a request for restoration of the sixth period in his May budget to the school board, despite the breakdown in the Field property deal.

Some area developers have been critical of the school district's handling of the property, arguing that the Field site has an estimated value of $5 million and that it would actually be in the district's long-term interest to sell the land.

"It's a top location in town, but if they don't want to sell it, I just don't see much interest among developers," said Bob Stevenson of the large Glendale firm of Stevenson-Dilbeck Development Corp.

Wayland Parsons, deputy superintendent of administration, said the district is anxious to see the property start generating some income but warned, "We won't jump at any deal that comes our way."

"It's a valuable piece of property that's just sitting there, not bringing in any money," said Parsons, who is overseeing negotiations with developers. "We want to take some action on it, but we're proceeding carefully because there is so much at stake financially."

The property is ideally suited for development, Parsons said, because it is large enough to build a sizable profit-making residential or commercial complex and it is close to the city's business district. It is also located in a reasonably well-off neighborhood.

Parsons said that since the deal with the Los Angeles-based California Coast Development Group fell apart two months ago, he has been contacted by a few developers who have expressed interest in the property. The district is now holding off until board members decide whether they again want to lease the property or sell it. Sanchis said the latter option "is possible but unlikely."

One advantage that the district has is the City Council's current discussions over Glendale's Master Plan. If adopted, the plan would rezone the Field Elementary School site from single-family to high-density residential development. A decision on the master plan is expected by early summer, and, if approved, it would allow a developer to build without having to go through the time-consuming zone change procedure now required.

The district is hesitant to sell the property, fearing a possible cutback in state funding because of the large infusion of cash that would accompany the sale. Sanchis said that if Glendale's population increases dramatically in the future, the district may want to turn the property back into a school. That would not be possible if the land is sold.

Request for Bids Issued

Two years ago, the district issued a request for bids for the property, seeking a 65-year lease and payments of $395,000 a year. Only California Coast responded to the offer, although three other developers initially expressed interest before backing down because of the lease arrangement.

Edward Miller, director of development for California Coast, haggled with the City Council for several months, first to get a zone change allowing construction of a $12 million housing complex, then over financing of the project.

Los Angeles Times Articles