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Penn State Behind Offer to Purchase Historic School Building, Reveals Plans for Property

by on January 22, 2014 11:00 AM

Penn State has emerged as the potential buyer for a historic school building along North Atherton Street.

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 sitting on two acres of prime real estate.

According to State College Area School District spokesperson Julie Miller the building currently houses the district's printing services and the curriculum offices.

The school district announced Friday that it had received an offer for the property but details have not been disclosed.

Penn State tells StateCollege.com that it's interested in purchasing the property which is just two blocks from the northwest corner of campus.

University spokesperson Lisa Powers says, "We are currently in discussions with the State College Area School District to acquire the property, so there are not details on any agreement or purchase price at this time. The university would like to use the facility for the University Press operations."

That may be a relief for residents in the College Heights neighborhood. Some have worried that the two acre lot might be purchased by a developer.

Linda Hendrickson sits on the association's board. She says the school district has been vague about plans to sell. "Some of the concerns we've had, is what would the property be used for? It's a very historical building, she says"

Hendrickson adds that neighbors don't want to see the school building torn down and replaced by something else.

"We're concerned about [the possibility of an] increase in traffic and an increase in noise. It's green space now. ...  All of College Heights has been declared a historic area. This particular building just adds to the charm of the neighborhood. ... The architecture of the building is something that people would like to have maintained."

Powers says the university is in touch with the College Heights Association. She says, " ... they are aware of the offer, which is contingent on various reviews, approvals and improvements that will be required to sell school property. In addition, the State College Borough has first right of refusal for the sale of this property."

State College Borough Manager Tom Fountaine first heard about the offer last Friday. He says, "I will present the offer to council on Feb. 3 as part of their regular agenda." Council members will then have to decide if the borough has any interest in buying the property.

Scott Etter, the school district's solicitor, confirms that a 1992 agreement with the borough gives the borough right of first refusal for school properties. That means the borough can decide to match any offers made on school properties.

Etter says the borough has "six months as of this past Friday to say whether it's interested" in the College Heights School.

Land for the school building was sold in 1922 to what was then known as the School District of the Borough of State College by Adam and Rebecca Krumrine for $1. The deed stipulated that the plot "is to be used for school purposes and a school building is to be erected ..." The College Heights Association believed that the property would go the original owner's heirs if the property were converted to some other use.

Powers says that's not the case. "There are several deeds to the property and the one with language suggesting that the property would revert back to the original owners' heirs was only in place if the elementary school had not been built within a specific time frame," she says. "It was built within the allotted time given and the clause was satisfied. There is a statement related to "school purposes," and we are an educational institution, so that is also satisfied. There is a third deed on a small portion of the property and it does not contain any restrictions."

Hendrickson believes most College Heights residents would be happy to see the building used by the University Press. "I can't see that would be a problem unless they want to tear down the building," she says.

Powers says there are no plans to take down the old school building. "We understand the neighborhood's attachment to the building and we are planning to use the building as offices for Penn State University Press. If an agreement is reached, the university is planning to improve the existing building to address maintenance and code issues and include site improvement, such as additional landscaping."

The school board expects to take formal action during a regular public meeting after the borough decides whether it's interested in the property.

The school board says it will also notify the Centre Region Planning Agency and the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Once the sale has been cleared, the district will petition the Centre County Court of Common Please for approval, which is required by the school code.

According to Etter, "The court is the safeguard for the taxpaying public to make sure that the property is not given away at an inappropriate price."

If the property is sold, proceeds will be used for other capital needs in the school district.

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Steve Bauer is Managing Editor & Chief Content Officer at StateCollege.com. Steve and his wife Trina are longtime area residents. They reside in State College with their Golden Retriever Izzy and a wacky foster dog named Treasure. You can e-mail Steve at Steve.Bauer@StateCollege.com and you can follow us @StateCollege.com
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