MOORHEAD — When news broke recently that the Moorhead School Board had approved the purchase of a large, vacant building in the community for more than $4 million, some may have been left scratching their heads about the necessity of such a purchase.
However, district officials say the purchase of the former Sam's Club site at 2800 27th Ave. S. for use as a career and technical academy is the latest in a string of acquisitions intended to meet the district's long-range goals and plans, which include a soon-to-be-launched campaign to secure funds for a new high school.
Earlier this month, the Moorhead School Board approved the purchase of the site for about $4.2 million, with a plan to turn the 137,000-square-foot building into a career center geared toward preparing students to enter either the world of work or higher education.
The district will spend additional dollars to make the building what they want it to be, bringing the total cost to about $12 million.
In recent years, the school district has acquired a number of other properties, including the former Muscatell Super Center, 1313 30th Ave. S., for about $2.7 million; and the former Globe University building, 2777 34th St. S., which the district is buying through a lease-purchase arrangement.
Also, this summer the school district will take over ownership of the Moorhead Sports Center from the city of Moorhead.
The former Muscatell Super Center now houses the school district's buses and serves as the district's operations center.
The facility in north Moorhead that had served as the district's transportation facility was sold.
The former Globe University property is now home to several of the district's programs that had been spread over two buildings the district rented space in.
Those programs include the district's Adult Basic Education; the district's outreach program, and the Red River Area Learning Center, which is the district's alternative learning center for high school and middle school students.
Moorhead Schools Superintendent Brandon Lunak said the purchase of Globe University for about $4.2 million did not significantly change the district's budget picture because the money the district was spending on leases will now mostly cover the cost of the new annual payments, which will end after 25 years.
"When you add up the amount of (lease) money you put out over the course of a 25-year period and then have nothing to show for it, that was what the board wanted us to eliminate," Lunak said.
As part of a deal reached with the city of Moorhead, the school district for the price of $1 will assume ownership this summer of the Moorhead Sports Center, which is attached to Moorhead Senior High.
The school district has been leasing the space at a cost of about $235,000 annually, which came out of the district's leasing tax levy.
Under the new arrangement, the city will continue to manage the Sports Center while the school district will use its ice arena tax levy to cover the difference between the sports center's operating revenues and expenses.
Lunak said that cost will be different every year and it could be more or less than the approximately $235,000 lease payment the district has been making.
He said a primary benefit from the change will be increased security, because as a city facility the Sports Center had to remain open and unlocked during daytime hours, even though it was attached to the high school.
Lunak said the acquisition of Sam's Club was in keeping with the district's 2014-15 facilities master plan, which called for development of a career center in an existing community building and a new high school to be built on the site of the current high school.
The Sam's Club property will not only satisfy the first of those goals, but it will cost the district far less than it would cost to build a facility of similar size, according to Lunak.
And because the career center is intended to accommodate students from across Clay County, Lunak said it holds the potential to generate revenue for Moorhead schools.
He added there is already discussion underway aimed at establishing a tuition agreement with at least one other school district.
"I think there are opportunities (at the career center) that maybe people don't see today, but they will see in the future when we get the programming squared away," Lunak said.
When it comes to a new high school, Lunak said the district plans to put a bond question to voters in November asking for money to pay for a new high school that would be built on the current high school's footprint.
The preliminary figure being discussed is $110 million, which would include money for refitting Sam's Club for the career center.
Lunak said a community survey showed 54 percent support for a $110 million bond measure and new high school, which he said is needed for two issues — capacity and adequacy.
Lunak said the current high school, which was built in the late 1960s, has accessibility problems due to its multi levels and he said larger classes will soon be heading to the high school.
"We need more space there," he said.