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Penn State and Non-Profit Group Competing to Purchase College Heights School

by on March 17, 2014 10:01 PM

State College Borough Council has plans to allow Penn State and a non-profit group present their concepts for the College Heights School.

Currently, Penn State and the State College Area School District have an agreement for the university to purchase the building for $400,000. Making the deal uncertain -- the borough has first right to refusal on the property before the district can sell the building.

Council approved a schedule Monday night that allows Penn State and Center for Arts, Social Services and Education, or CASE – which is also interested in buying the building – to present their visions for the property. Council plans to hear from these parties and others before deciding if it will exercise its right to purchase the building.

Penn State, CASE and the school district will have an opportunity on April 7 to speak before council regarding their interested use for the building.

Council also wants the parties to discuss the impact their plans could have on the neighborhood, including traffic and noise; property rehabilitation needs, availability of funding to purchase the property and complete needed renovations; and their willingness to enter a "first right of refusal" agreement with the borough should either party choose to sell the property in the future.

Then, on May 5, council will hear from other parties with an interest in the future of the building, including the College Heights Neighborhood Association. Groups must register in advance to speak at the meeting. The general public will have a chance to speak about the issue May 12 and June 2.

Council will hold a work session May 12 to discuss the issue further. Then, on June 2, council will hold a public hearing regarding the proposed sale and whether the borough should exercise its right to first refusal.

Any additional discussion will be June 9 before council makes a final decision on June 16.

The district notified the borough in January of the pending sale, which started a six-month countdown for council to decide if it wants to exercise its right to take ownership of the property.

Councilwoman Theresa Lafer raised concerns over the process the district followed to reach a sale agreement with Penn State. Lafer said at Monday's meeting the school board initially allowed two entities, including CASE, to walk through the property. Lafer also said the district told the parties they would have an opportunity to bid on the property. Later, Lafer says, the district told the interested parties Penn State made an offer, which the school district accepted without allowing the other groups to make bids.

"It concerns me a lot," says Lafer.

State College Area School District Spokeswoman Julie Miller could not be immediately reached for a response to Lafer's claim. The district previously said Penn State's offer was the only offer received. The university intends to use the property for University Press offices.

The school board has said the building was not on the market, but receives periodic inquiries from prospective purchasers and has provided tours of the property to all potential buyers.

The College Heights School was built in 1931 and was once an elementary school. The property, located at 721 N Atherton St., includes a 14,000 square-foot structure on two acres.

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Jennifer Miller is a reporter for StateCollege.com. She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government.
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