The Hays USD 489 school board in a special meeting Tuesday night narrowly approved to move forward with purchasing the Oak Park Medical Complex, 2501 E. 13th, for no more than $2 million to relocate Early Childhood Connections.

The lease purchase will take $250,000 out of the district’s capital outlay for 10 years. Because that amount is more than $100,000, the public has 30 days to file a protest. If 5 percent of the district’s qualified voters protest, the purchase would then be put to a public vote, board attorney Michael Baxter told the board.

The board voted 4-2 with one abstention after nearly an hour of discussion in executive sessions. Board President Mandy Fox, Vice President Mike Walker, and board members Sophia Rose Young and Paul Adams voted in favor of entering contract negotiations. Board members Lance Bickle and Greg Schwartz voted against. Luke Oborny abstained, citing an inability to completely support either decision.

The board was informed Sept. 24 it had been awarded a $1.4 million grant in federal Head Start/Early Head Start funds to renovate the facility, Superintendent John Thissen said. The grant was applied for at the end of May.

ECC serves children eligible for Head Start, state pre-kindergartens and early childhood block grant in five classrooms at the former Washington Elementary, 305 Main. Center-based Head Start programs are housed in the former Munjor Elementary School, with about 22 families taking part there, Young said.

Purchasing and renovating the Oak Park complex would consolidate the programs into one location. The grant would require renovations to be complete by June.

“If the board wanted to take advantage of that grant, then we had to move quickly,” Thissen said after the meeting. “We’re at the spot of sending it back if we can’t take it.”

Wednesday, Thissen must send meeting minutes to Head Start indicating the board will purchase the property, and on Monday, the board will vote to formally accept the funds.

After convening in open session again Tuesday, board members each took a few minutes to speak their views before the vote.

Although the board had discussed purchasing the property in executive session in February and at its Sept. 24 meeting, it was the first public discussion, a fact that concerned Bickle and Schwartz.

The lack of public discussion was due in part, Bickle said, to the stipulation of the federal grant application.

“I don’t like feeling like we’re being rushed to make this decision,” Bickle said.

“On something of this magnitude, I would like feedback from the community,” Schwartz said.

The lack of an appraisal on the property was another concern.

“I have big concerns about the value of the property,” Schwartz said.

“We haven’t had an appraisal done. I don’t think one will be conducted if we do it as proposed. We’ll just be paying speculative numbers. Before we go out and make an offer on any building, we should have an appraisal in hand so we know at least we’re in the ballpark.”

He also said he was concerned about the cost of renovations.

“I would be shocked if it comes back under $2 million with renovation. Then the numbers we talked about just get worse,” he said after the meeting.

“And then we’re taking $250,000 for 10 years out of capital outlay funds. We don’t have enough money in there now to do what we need to do,” he said.

The structure, owned by the Oak Park Condominium Association, is appraised at $2,321,380 by the county for the 5.8 acres of land and more than 25,000 square feet of buildings.

Oak Park Condominium Association is an association of five owners, with Hays Medical Center owning about half the buildings. County records show the owners of the buildings as Kansas Pathology Consultants PA, LSK Enterprises, My Rentals LLC, the association itself, and Praveen Rahanahalli and Suma Kharidi.

Hays Medical Center will give the district a $500,000 credit in sale, effectively making the purchase price $1.5 million.

Oborny initially said he was torn on which way to vote. He also expressed concerns about feeling rushed into a decision and not having feedback from the community.

But he also saw positive aspects.

“I am excited about the fact we can finally give Early Childhood Connections, Parents as Teachers, all of that, the space they need and the building they need,” he said.

The former Washington Elementary is 92 years old and has problems with sewage back-ups and other plumbing issues. Parts of the building are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and cannot be used

After each of the other board members had their say, Oborny said he could justify neither a vote for nor against the proposal and would abstain from voting.

Walker, while saying he would prefer to have more time to consider the proposal, said the pros outweigh the cons and the district should move forward with the purchase.

Young said the the district was “blessed” to have received the grant and because the district has failed in attempts to pass bonds for facilities improvements, cannot afford to build a new facility for ECC

“The next best thing does seems we buy a newer building and renovate,” she said.

Fox congratulated ECC director Donna Hudson-Hamilton on obtaining the grant as an innovative way to secure funding.

“I think this is a time where we’re at in this community where you have to be innovative to bring those dollars in and I commend you,” she said.

Fox said Thissen told her if the district, during contract negotiations, decides not to follow through with the purchase, it won’t be penalized for sending the grant money back.

“To me, that risk at that point has been minimized. There’s still risk, but I feel like it’s significantly less,” she said.

Adams said his vote was a matter of following the district’s mission of serving every child in every classroom every day.

“It’s an essential part of our community,” he said of the Head Start Program, noting all at-risk children, whether or not they will attend the public schools, are eligible.

“It also means providing the best possible facility,” he said.

“It’s the right thing to do at this time for our community, for our school district and for every school in Hays,” he said.

Updated 7 a.m. with county appraisal value correction and other details on the sale.