Independence seeks new buyer for East Elementary - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Independence seeks new buyer for East Elementary

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INDEPENDENCE (KWWL) -- Independence Board of Education members are finding themselves facing a familiar situation -- they need to find a buyer for East Elementary School. This comes just four months after they thought they had a done deal with a pair of Iowa businessmen.

Here's a little history: In January 2010, the Board voted to close East Elementary. The decision was part of a larger plan to slash the district's budget by $800,000. When school started this fall, the building remained empty.

In December, after six months on the market, the Board received its first offer. Two businessmen said they wanted to open a call center in the old school, and offered $100,000 for the site. They claimed their company, Affordable Leasing, would create dozens of new jobs in the community.

The Board approved the sale. However, some board members, and many community members, wondered if the company was legitimate.

"I didn't know what the place was, what they were going to do," said John TerHark, who has several grandchildren in the school system. "But I heard they were buying other schools here around the state."

Affordable Leasing has purchased a former school in Dumont, and has made offers on other buildings, including one in Osage. The amount offered in Independence by the business owners was just a fifth of the appraised value of the property, but they placed the only bid. At the time, some realtors suggested the district could make more money by enlisting a professional seller.

The Superintendent of Independence Community Schools told KWWL News, Affordable Leasing did not meet their end of the contract by the closing deadline.  At Monday's regular Board meeting, they voted to re-open East Elementary for bidding.

Superintendent Jean Petersen said they are placing advertisements in local and regional newspapers. If they don't get any "nibbles" within 30 days, they'll turn to a realtor for help.

Petersen said the district is working to find a new buyer sooner, rather than later. Like many other school systems, the budget in Independence is tight.  She also noted, when the community looks to vote on a bond for a new Junior/Senior High School in September, the revenue from the sale of East Elementary would help lower the bond amount.

Online Reporter: Colleen O'Shaughnessy

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