Fresno Unified is considering buying the old juvenile detention hall in southeast Fresno, according to Superintendent Bob Nelson, with plans to turn it into an alternative education center.
The property is once again in Fresno County's possession after the last buyer backed out during the due diligence period of escrow, the latest in a series of setbacks in the county’s five-year effort to sell the 13 acres at Ventura Avenue and Tenth Street.
Nelson said in an editorial board meeting with The Bee that the district would raze the existing facility, once deemed the “Hall of Shame” in a 2001 Bee investigation, in order to build a new site for alternative education.
“It sure would be something if we could take a place where kids’ dreams went to die and make it into something positive,” Nelson said.
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The idea to build a school where the detention center once operated is not new, according to Elliott Kirschenmann of Carosella Properties, whose firm had bid $1.5 million last year for the property.
“We were the only buyer, public or private, to take interest in the property in four years,” he said.
Kirschenmann said his firm was in talks with Fresno Unified this year about building an alternative education facility at the site, even touring the space and looking at renderings with district representatives.
The two parties were negotiating a purchase price of $3 million, according to Kirschenmann, which included the cost of asbestos removal from parts of the building.
However, Kirschenmann said, when he asked for an extension to his escrow period, the county took no action in a closed session, effectively forcing the firm to decide within a week whether to move forward with the purchase. Unable to confirm Fresno Unified as a buyer, Carosella Properties backed out of the deal.
Kirschenmann said he believes it’s possible the county told Fresno Unified to wait for Carosella Properties to run out its escrow period, so that the district could make the purchase directly from the county.
District spokesman Miguel Arias said it is in the district’s interest to find the best return on its investment.
“In a landlocked district like Fresno Unified, it’s hard to find property within our boundaries,” Arias said.
The funds for the potential purchase of the property would come from Measure K, according to Arias.
Fresno Unified is in the midst of several construction projects, including a new elementary school in southeast Fresno slated to open for the 2020-21 school year.
Robert Bash, director of internal services for the county, said that typically, the next step for a property pulled back from escrow would be to put it back on public notice and see if any public agencies would purchase it.
However, he confirmed that the county had already received interest from Fresno Unified.
Bash said the property is worth $2.3 million in its entirety.
"But we acknowledge that most buyers won’t be able to use the prison portion,” he said.
Kirschenmann said he has no hard feelings about the district potentially buying the property directly from the county.
“But we would have been a good partner with the school district,” he said. “And I will say, probably, by now, we would have had the site bought and cleaned up.”
According to Arias, the Fresno Unified board will likely hold a special meeting over the summer to discuss the purchase and a potential price.