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School system gets go-ahead to sell Ellis Street property

Dr. Lynn Moody was tight-lipped Monday as members of the Rowan County Board of commissioners prodded her for specifics concerning the sale of school property on North Ellis Street.

The Rowan-Salisbury School System superintendent approached board members on behalf of the system. She asked if the commission wanted to buy 3.55 acres at the corner of Ellis and Liberty streets from the school system or tender the land to the schools.

The appraised value of the land is $617,000, and Moody said a buyer was on the line.

When looking to sell a piece of land, school officials first are required to offer the property back to the county for the appraised price before proceeding in the sale or trade process on their own.

Commissioner Craig Pierce had several questions for Moody concerning the anonymous buyer as well as the process moving forward.

Moody said she couldn’t comment much on the process because the deal would collapse.

“Just like this board when we were in negotiations with the (West End) Plaza — we were not able to talk about it, yet we were berated by the paper and the radio and everybody else that we were trying to hide things,” Pierce said. “But that’s not the case here? You’re under the same conditions we were, but you’re not trying to hide anything?”

Moody said she is not trying to hide anything.

Pierce asked Moody the reason a person, or persons, “wanting to be magnanimous” and purchase the property would not want anybody to know who he or she is or who they are.

“I don’t think I can give you that at this point,” Moody said.

The issue of the disposition of the Ellis Street property surfaced shortly after Pierce and Commissioner Mike Caskey were supposed to meet with select school board members and staff in a recently formed joint committee to discuss capital outlay projects.

The meeting reportedly was nixed because of a lack of subject matter, but the issue came up shortly thereafter.

“When we were supposed to have our last joint committee meeting, we really didn’t have anything,” Moody said. “We were asked if we could tender that (property) and try to work up a contract with our attorneys in those regards.”

According to Moody, school officials would be able to disclose details at the end of this month on the sale if the land was tendered to the system to do with it as it pleased.

“We have been in negotiations, but nothing we can talk about publicly, or else the purchaser would withdraw,” Moody said.

The appraisal price for the land “is much higher” than people anticipated, Moody said.

Jim Sides, the board’s chairman, pressured Moody as to whether the property would be sold or traded as well as if there was going to be a formal bid process when the school district announces who wants to buy it at the set price.

Moody said she couldn’t talk about it.

Sides asked the superintendent if the district would have to put the land up for a 10-day upset bid or if the whole bidding process would be closed.

Moody declined comment.

The commission chairman then asked Moody if she could reveal the plans as to what the district will do with the money when it comes in.

“No sir, I cannot,” Moody said. “At this point, we’re not asking you to approve anything except that you don’t want this property at $617,000. That’s all you’re voting on — tendering the property to us so we can further our negotiations.”

Considering the magnitude of the decision, Sides said he feels like he has the right to ask pertinent questions for the public.

“I don’t think those questions are out of line,” Sides said.

When Sides asked Jay Dees, the county’s attorney, to weigh in, Dees said the crux of whether any question could be answered revolved around knowledge of who the buyer is.

“We do have exceptions to transfer property to other nonprofits to perform essentially government functions,” Dees said. “We have the economic development provision that allows us to do it without a 10-day upset bid period. Those are the only two exceptions we’ve invoked as a board.”

Moody told Sides she couldn’t answer his question as to whether a non-profit organization was interested in the land or not.

In the end, commissioners approved unanimously tendering the Ellis Street property to the school district for them to proceed in either selling or trading it.

“I think this goes to one of the crazy ways North Carolina education law works. Before the school board can sell a piece of property, they basically have to offer it back to the county commission before they can sell it,” Commissioner Chad Mitchell said. “This is what is happening. We either want to buy a piece of property for $617,000, or we want to allow them to dispose of it through a cash sale, or some swap or trade. Our statutory responsibility ends there.”

Caskey said he is not interested in buying the Ellis Street property because “we just bought a bunch of property off Jake Alexander, and I think we’re set.”

Commissioner Jon Barber retorted and asked Caskey to clarify if he said “the mistake on Jake.”

“I said we’re set on Jake,” Caskey said.

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