Lawrence school district will sell East Heights property for affordable housing project

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The Lawrence school district will sell its former East Heights Elementary School property to developers planning to build affordable single-family homes.

Board members during their meeting Monday unanimously approved the sale of the building at 1430 Haskell Ave. to the Flint Hills Holding Group LLC. 

The sale was originally on the board’s consent agenda — a list of items that are generally considered routine and are approved with one motion unless a board member or the superintendent asks to pull something for further discussion – but it was moved to new business before the meeting.

The amount for the sale, negotiated with Flint Hills, is $875,000, which will be added to the district’s capital outlay fund. 

Larry Englebrick, chief operations officer, said the district is committed to using that return to fund needed improvements to its existing buildings. When the district sold its property at 2600 W. 25th St., just north of the athletic fields at Holcom Park, for another affordable housing project, it used the money from the sale to fix roofing issues at another school.

“As you remember, we told the public, we told you, that we will use those funds from the sale of Holcom to improve our properties in the future,” Englebrick said. “We will use these funds in the same manner.”

Flint Hills intends to apply for a Low Income Housing Tax Credit to develop 40 to 55 single-family two- and three-bedroom homes as rental units. Plans include implementing an on-site day care center.

The project is projected to be completed in three years, as long as Flint Hills receives the funding it needs.

“This transaction is contingent upon the receipt of Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) award and the tax credit partnership, with an anticipated closing date no later than March 31, 2027,” according to the meeting agenda item. “In the event that Flint Hills Holding Group, LLC does not secure the LIHTC, the district will receive $100,000 to cover the carrying costs associated with the property during the waiting period.”

Paula Murrish, executive director of district services, said she’s confident the developers will receive the tax credit.

During a meeting in November, some Affordable Housing Advisory Board members said the project sounded great but that they had concerns that the developer had not yet acquired the land for it. Flint Hills and developer Tony Krsnich requested $1.2 million from the city’s affordable housing trust fund, but the board recommended the city not allocate any funds yet.

In addition to the day care center, plans involve offering health screenings, mental and behavioral health support for young children and providing a community space. The infrastructure would target multigenerational households and, to the extent allowed by fair housing laws, would aim to serve people of color and immigrant households.

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Almost a year ago, the board voted to approve a request for proposals, a document that authorizes a future sale and seeks buyers, to sell the East Heights building as surplus property.

Englebrick said the district had a great deal of optimism that there would be multiple offers for the property, but ultimately received just two offers from the same group.

Englebrick said the building is about half the size of the district’s other school buildings. The district’s Community Transition (C-Tran) programs were previously housed in the building but were moved to the former Pinckney Elementary School building this year after the board voted to close the elementary school. This year, the building has sat empty.

The district is increasing “the number of times and number of people who will be doing drive-bys and interior visits to the property” to keep an eye on potential criminal activity in the vacant space. Flint Hills plans to do the same, Englebrick said.

In other business, the board adjourned to an executive session at the beginning of the meeting with Superintendent Anthony Lewis and Kristen Ryan, executive director of human resources. When board members returned, they voted to “approve the settlement agreement as presented.”

No details were provided about what the settlement was regarding. We asked for the settlement agreement from district spokesperson Julie Boyle, who said she has requested it and will touch base Tuesday.

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Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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