Vote to officially close Washington Elementary moves developer one step closer in apartment project

Brianna Childers
The USD 489 school board voted Monday to officially close Washington Elementary School. The closure of the school moves Overland Property Group one step closer to its goal of renovating the building into affordable housing apartments.

A vote by the USD 489 school board to close Washington Elementary School has moved Overland Property Group, which plans to turn the building into apartments, one step closer to its goal.

The board voted 6-1 during its Monday meeting to officially close the school which is currently under contract to be sold to Overland Property Group, a development company based in Salina, for $500,000.

According to Matt Gillam, managing partner for Overland Property Group, the development group plans to turn the historic building into 18 affordable housing apartments.

Gillam said the company is close to having the design plans approved by the city of Hays and is working through the historical process at the state and federal level.

Overland Property Group hopes to complete the purchase of the building in December. Renovation of the building should begin in February 2021 and renters should be able to move into the building in December 2021, Gillam said.

According to Ron Wilson, superintendent of the school district, the money from the sale of the school will go toward paying down loans on the Early Childhood Connections complex located at 2501 E. 13th St.

Before the board voted to approve the resolution to close the building, some board members raised concerns about what the $500,000 would be used for and suggested a different avenue for the funds.

Board member Craig Pallister said several patrons reached out and voiced concerns about the aging buildings in the district, including Lincoln Elementary School which is nearing 100 years old.

“The patrons that I talked to said, ’Please think about the K-5 facilities around this district,’” Pallister said. “Do we need to be looking at buying land for a new elementary school with that $500,000? Make a strategic plan down the road. Don't just pay off interest. Make a plan to replace the school.”

Mike Walker, president of the board, said he isn’t opposed to the idea of using the $500,000 for a different purpose, but thinks the current plan is a good one.

“Once we decided we were going to move the ECC into the refurbished oak park complex and we had the opportunity to sell Washington, the plan was like, ’Okay this will work out perfect because we can use those funds from that sale to help pay down a loan for the ECC building,” Walker said.

While Walker agrees a new building would be beneficial for the district, he knows that project would cost more than $500,000 to complete.

“It’s gonna cost millions,” Walker said. “We can use those funds for a new building, certainly, but we are going to have to come up with the other money for that new building. I think we will talk to the administration, but I do think it’s a pretty good plan to use those funds to pay off part of the loan for the ECC building. I’m not opposed to look at other ideas. I just think the plan we have in place is pretty good.”

While the board’s vote to officially close Washington Elementary came during Monday’s meeting, the school building has sat vacant, with the occasional occupant, since 2015 when the board at the time voted to repurpose the building.

According to Walker, after students and teachers were moved out of the building in 2015, it wasn’t used again until the ECC moved in 2016 into the south wing of the building.

The ECC occupied part of the building until 2019 when it moved to its permanent home at the ECC complex.

Then a rainstorm in August 2019 that caused flooding at the Rockwell Administration Center, 323 W. 12th St., displaced The Learning Center of Ellis County.

Walker said because Washington Elementary was vacant, the learning center moved into the building temporarily.

The learning center will move out of the elementary school at the end of the year to its temporary home at the Hadley Center, 205 E. 7th St.

Walker said the learning center will most likely be moved back to its original home at the Rockwell Administration Center.