The Salt Lake School District's attempt to make the state pay more to purchase South High School is unfair to Utah taxpayers.
School district officials are angry over the state's offer of $1 million for the school, which closes next month. The district wants $5 million for the building and land.But South High's fair market value was estimated at only $1.2 million last year by a firm the district hired.
The value has dipped since then because an asbestos study at the school has disclosed it will cost $470,000 to clean up the asbestos at the site. That announcement knocked $470,000 off the market value of the building.
The state is offering to pay $1 million for the site. That is the amount recommended by the impartial arbitrator the district brought into the negotiations. The building would be turned into a downtown campus for the Salt Lake Community College.
But the district is still calling for $5 million. Their appraiser told them the building could be worth as much as $6 million if it was bought by someone who wanted to use it as a school. The community college wants it for that purpose, so the district argues they should get millions of dollars more.
Their ambition is understandable. The district faces $1.7 million in projected shortfalls next year. Additionally, the state's offer is only a fraction of what previous schools have been sold for.
The district sold Curtis Elementary to Mountain Bell in 1976 for nearly $28 per square foot. It sold the Jordan Junior High School to the state in 1984 for $11.83 per square foot. Roosevelt Junior High was sold to Rowland Hall-St. Mark's in 1986 for $11.66 per square foot.
By comparison, the state's offer breaks down to $2.82 per square foot. That is disappointing to the district.
But it is not the state's job to see that the district gets a satisfying offer for South High.
It is the state's job to spend the taxpayers' dollars as prudently as possible. In the midst of widespread protest over taxes, it is critical that the state fulfill that job well.
By offering to pay the fair market value of the school, the state is honoring its obligation to Utah taxpayers.
The district, on the other hand, is being insensitive to Utah taxpayers by demanding an additional $4 million for the school.
The state's offer is not only the best offer the district has received, it is the only offer.
The school's location does not make the land prime commercial real estate, and few people have use for 354,000 square feet of empty halls and classrooms. It may be years before another offer comes along.
If the district botches negotiations with the state, it runs the risk of having another empty eyesore like Lincoln Elementary. The district would have to invest heavily and continually just to maintain an empty building vulnerable to vandalism and decay.
The district would be wise to take the $1 million offer and call it good.