Jefferson City Public Schools is interested in purchasing properties near Jefferson City High School that were damaged by the May 22 tornado, with the goal of someday being able to expand the high school's activities facilities.
"Interested" is about the extent of where efforts are, according to the district — there's no specific plan for how properties could be used, no set budget for buying them and discussions with neighbors to JCHS are "very much in the early stages," said Jason Hoffman, JCPS chief financial and operating officer, in an email forwarded Friday by Ryan Burns, JCPS director of communications.
JCPS has reached out to about 50 homeowners, via a letter from Hoffman.
"Due to the proximity of some of the tornado damage to Jefferson City High School, a number of community members have reached out to the district to see whether we would have any interest in purchasing properties in the area. The Jefferson City High School campus is landlocked, so while the suggestion does make sense, we recognize the sensitivity to such a proposal," according to the letter.
"The intent of this letter is to let neighboring property owners know that Jefferson City Public Schools is interested in talking with you to determine whether there might be an opportunity for us to work together. We are in the very early stages of looking into this possibility and reaching out to gauge the interest of the current property owners and the feasibility of possible purchases," the letter adds.
Hoffman wrote to the News Tribune that of the 50 homeowners contacted, about 60 percent are landlords, and three letters came back as unable to be delivered.
He wrote, when looking at the path the May 22 EF-3 tornado took near JCHS, a majority of homes received some level of damage — "from minimal to extreme" — in an area bounded by Stadium Boulevard, Jackson Street, Oberman Place and Adams Street, "and that is the area we identified for our outreach."
That rectangular area of homes is located immediately northwest, across Jackson Street, from Adkins Stadium.
"Only a few (properties) were included due to their close proximity to houses that were damaged," Hoffman wrote.
"While there is not a detailed plan for how the property could be used, with Jefferson City High School being landlocked, there will always be a need to acquire property in order to expand activities facilities if they are to be adjacent to the JCHS campus. The Capital City High School campus has land for future expansion if needed, and our goal is to keep the two high school properties equitable if we can, so acquiring this property would allow us to ensure we can do so in the future," he wrote.
He added: "We have heard back from about half of the individuals we contacted via letter, in addition to the concerned community members and neighbors who reached out immediately following the tornado. Nearly all of the homeowners who have responded to the letter have been interested in continuing a conversation with the district to see whether selling would help their current situation."
The letter to property owners states "Any offer for purchase would be at a fair market price."
Hoffman added for the News Tribune: "Any price determinations would be a part of the conversation with homeowners in hopes that we would reach an agreement on an amount that would be acceptable to all parties," and "the district does not have a set budget at this time."
An expansion of the JCHS campus was briefly considered a few years ago and was met with opposition from residents in the neighborhood.
In fall 2016, JCPS considered buying nine lots — mostly vacant — located north of JCHS on Marshall Street, bordering Roland Street, for $206,500.
Controversy ensued, and residents urged the district not to buy the land. JCPS ultimately passed on the opportunity for the purchases.
That land for the nine lots rested on a steep, grassy knoll, and district officials had discussed using it to host an adult education program, an alternative setting for students with behavioral issues or as a parking lot.
Residents were concerned about maintaining the integrity of the neighborhood; wanted the district to have come to them sooner; and worried about a worsening of issues including students walking through their properties, dumping trash and speeding through streets.