CMS considers $7.5 million for new headquarters

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will consider paying $7.5 million for a cluster of corporate office buildings off Interstate 77 to reconsolidate hundreds of administrators under one roof.

The deal would have other benefits for Mecklenburg County, including defraying county debt to the school district. By law, the county must pay CMS for the shuttered uptown Education Center on Martin Luther King Boulevard.

Ever since that building closed, scattering administrators across the county, CMS has searched for a facility for a new headquarters, said Guy Chamberlain, assistant CMS superintendent for operations.

Months ago, school officials found Atrium Corporate Center, a six-story building and two single-floor structures on nearly 9 acres on Stuart Andrew Boulevard at Pressley Road and I-77. It has a combined 150,000 square feet of space.

They found that Mecklenburg already held a five-year lease on the buildings owned by Chicago-based WCRT Atrium LLC. The county had planned to house MeckLINK Behavioral Healthcare, the agency that oversees mental health services.

But a new state law forced the county to shut down MeckLINK and fold it into another agency. That would have left Meckenburg holding the lease, costing $50,000 a month, even though they no longer needed the building.

“It would have cost us a chunk of money,” said county commissioners Chairman Trevor Fuller.

So when CMS officials approached commissioners this week to begin the process to buy Atrium, the board couldn’t vote fast enough to OK the transaction. The school board hasn’t yet approved the deal.

Since Mecklenburg provides most of CMS’ money for facilities and real estate, the district had to get the board’s approval to buy it. Commissioners heard CMS’ pitch in closed session before Tuesday’s board meeting, then emerged in open session to approve the transaction even before their public meeting began.

The county also agreed to contribute $2.5 million to upfit the buildings.

The property’s tax value is $7.7 million. CMS would pay $50 a square foot for the complex. “You can’t build anything for that price,” said Dennis LaCaria, CMS director for facilities planning and real estate.

Win for county

It’s a win for the county, too, Fuller said.

Mecklenburg is getting out of its lease, and CMS agreed to take $10 million (the $7.5 million to buy Atrium and $2.5 million to renovate it) off of what Mecklenburg ultimately will owe CMS on the former uptown Education Center.

The county wanted the property as part of a plan to redevelop uptown’s Second Ward into a mixed-use development. After a developer dropped out of the project last summer, the county is searching for a new developer to build what would be called Brooklyn Village.

However, Mecklenburg couldn’t just take the land. State law requires that the county pay CMS the property’s appraised value. It was last appraised at $16.3 million, and it will be appraised again in 2017 when the deal is finalized, or if a developer buys the property, LaCaria said.

Mecklenburg will owe the higher appraisal – minus $10 million.

“We’ve been looking for a replacement facility ever since the Ed. Center was closed,” Chamberlain said. “Price was an issue, and size and location were issues. This one fell nicely in meeting all of those categories.”

A rare collaboration

The consolidation of administrators into a new Education Center will also mean that CMS can return two former elementary schools – Oakhurst and Starmount – back to schools. Both buildings had been converted to administrative offices when CMS suddenly found itself lacking space after the old Education Center was closed.

“It is much less expensive (to recommission schools) than building new schools,” said LaCaria.

CMS will also keep space on the fifth floor of the government center for top district administrators such as Superintendent Heath Morrison and offices for school board members.

LaCaria didn’t know when administrators would begin to move into the new facility. Recommissioning Oakhurst and Starmount, he said, is set for the 2015-16 school year.

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