By Blenda Copeland
The Phenix City Board of Education has approved a measure to buy the former St. Patrick’s Catholic School for a price of $1.75 million from the Archdiocese of Mobile.
The board hasn’t decided what to do with the space yet, but it could possibly be used in a number of ways, such as hosting expanded pre-school services, or for office space, or for possibly a new elementary school, said Phenix City Schools Superintendent Randy Wilkes on April 20.
The approximately 16-acre property has two building spanning 16,0000 square feet a piece. It’s located in the 40th Street/Lakewood Drive area. One building is the old three-story convent that used to house nuns, and the other, recently built building housed the former school for one school year before the school’s decision makers decided to shut down the school permanently due to declining enrollment.
“I’m on the property now as part of the due diligence process,” Wilkes said from his cell phone as he surveyed the property. He said the district’s maintenance employees were checking on the buildings’ HVAC, electrical, sprinkler, intercom and other systems and estimating what kind of work, if any, needs to be done.
Wilkes said he already knows some remodeling will be needed to bring the classroom sizes up to the required 650 square feet, however, the unique octagon-shaped school building is a good buy for the district. “As far as the actual purchase, I think that we’re in the process right now,” he said.
The superintendent said the district has already put up the earnest money – $87,500 (5 percent) of the purchase price – and that the district’s intention is to pay cash for the purchase.
Wilkes said he was at the moment waiting to get an update about grant opportunities, combing through personnel and working on other tasks. When the state department affirms the number of teacher units the district is allotted for next school year, then the district can proceed with its tentative planning, which could possible include opening a new learning facility.
“If we can open up this fall, we will,” he said of the former St. Patrick’s location. If that’s the case, the facility will likely become a pre-school type facility. “If we need to wait before we open it up, then it could become a K-5 elementary,” Wilkes said.
“Right now having the land bank is priority. Second is expansion of pre-school services. Third option would be to wait a little longer, do the K-5 option.”
The district’s acquisition of the buildings and property is a good deal – and good price. The new building, which replaced the former St. Patrick’s school which had burned down in an accidental fire, was valued at about $3 million, Wilkes said – and that price didn’t account for the property itself and the convent building. In addition, the octagon-shaped building is already built, and barely used; and there’s enough land fronting the edges that could be converted into future parking, for instance.
Also, the location is prime for the district: “It’s right off Stadium Drive, Summerville Road, Highway 280/431…you’re a few blocks from Zaxby’s, Walmart, Central High School, Phenix City Intermediate School, Phenix City Elementary School, Sherwood Elementary…the location for a school or any type of educational facility is definitely a plus,” Wilkes added.
As the district continues to figure out what it wants to do with its newest acquisition, Wilkes said he wants to also let surrounding community members know that the school district will be “good neighbors, and we’ll be really mindful of the community.”
Board Member John Donohue said April 20 the school board is excited about the purchase and how the buildings may be used in the future.
“It’s a small building, but there’s room to expand it,” he said.
An idea the superintendent mentioned April 20 would be possibly adding an additional wing, if needed, in the future. Donohue added the average minimum acreage these days for an elementary school is about 16 acres, he thinks, and the site is big enough for a small elementary school like Sherwood Elementary, if needed.