County to make offer on Washington School

The Fayette County Board is on the verge of buying property that served as a Vandalia school for about 70 years.

Meeting in special session on Monday night, the board voted unanimously to make an offer on the Washington School building.

The board approved a $1,000 earnest check, then voted to make a $75,000 offer to the Fayette County Knights of Columbus for the building in the 300 block of South Eighth Street in Vandalia.

“We don’t have any real plans for the building (right now),” said board Chairman Steve Knebel. “We just want to secure that property.

“But my wide-open goals … we would have more office space, we would have more room,” Knebel said.

“We didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity,” he said. “It’s a very structurally sound building that is just across the street (from the courthouse).”

Board member Jeff Beckman, chairman of the building and grounds committee, said that committee has been looking at the purchase of the former school building “for over a year.”

Knebel said that while county officials have no set plans for the 20,000-square-foot structure, one possibility down the road is relocating one or more county offices there.

“The regional superintendent (of education) office, that building is falling apart,” he said, talking about the building at the southeast corner of Seventh and Johnson streets.

“That is a good candidate (for moving into another building),” Knebel said. He also said the building will provide needed storage space.

The Washington School building was constructed in 1940, on the same site that previously housed Third Ward, or Sapptown, School. A school has been on that 1-acre tract since 1872.

The Vandalia School District moved out of the building six years ago, when it built a new junior high and realigned its elementary school setup.

Knebel said the county’s offer, which has been tentatively accepted by the Knights of Columbus, is about $24,000 below the asking price.

Talking about the condition of the building, Knebel said the Knights put a new roof on the structure in February, and “they (the school district) put some new windows in there not too long ago.”

He said the county has had the building inspected, “and asbestos is not a problem right now.

“If we go in there and start ripping it apart, we will have to have someone come in and look it over again,” he said.

New board member Brian Kinney said he feels it will be “difficult and expensive” to remodel the building for use as office space.

Knebel agreed with Kinney’s estimation that remodeling costs would be higher than the purchase price. But he, along with several other board members, said it seemed like a sensible decision to buy land with a building so close to the courthouse.

Board member Joe Kelly agreed. “Just the ground is worth $75,000,” Kelly said.

The reason that a special meeting was called, Knebel said, is that the realtor had plans to show the building to a couple of other parties interested in the building.

The county will use monies from its capital improvement fund for the purchase. The tentative closing date is Feb. 16.

Knebel said that because the county has no immediate plans for the building, he would have no problem with Knights of Columbus continuing to use it through the spring, as long as it pays utility costs.

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