The Martin School Board offers $7.5 million to purchase Stuart News building for its new administrative offices

STUART ― The Martin County School Board voted unanimously March 26 to pay $7.5 million for the 10-acre Stuart News campus in order to transform it into the District’s new administrative offices.

The School Board first announced the negotiated offer and potential plans to relocate its current operations at 500 E. Ocean Blvd. and 1050 E. 10th St. to the 96,000-square-foot facility at 1939 S.E. Federal Highway in a mid-February press release. Chairwoman Christia Li Roberts said at the time the decision to relocate had been postponed until Martin County voters approved a tax increase in order to more rapidly replace two of the District’s dilapidated school buildings.

“The location of our administrative offices has been a pressing concern that has greatly impacted the orderly operations of the District,” she said Feb. 22. “While the School Board had previously approved and set aside funding for the building of an administrative office, we put this process on hold to find a solution for the replacement of our two aging elementary schools. Martin County voters generously approved a half-cent sales tax increase to expedite the replacement of these schools. The purchase price for the property is $7.5 million, and if approved by the Board, staff would move into the building before the start of the 2019-2020 school year.”

Treasure Coast Newspapers and its parent company Gannett first listed the property with CBRE Inc. just over a year ago for $12 million due to industry changes and the company’s need to find a different-style facility with more open and collaborative work spaces. Robert Smith, CBRE executive vice president, described the property encompassing both office and warehouse space at the time as “a rare and beautiful campus-like setting located in the heart of Martin County.” When the property was originally developed between 1984 and 1990, it housed both the editorial and printing portions of the business until then-owner E.W. Scripps constructed a separate 124,000-square-foot printing facility in St. Lucie West. Mr. Smith failed to respond to an email request by press time on whether there had been any previous prospects on the property over the last year and why Gannett accepted such a low-ball offer.

Martin County School Superintendent Laurie Gaylord, however, expressed elation Feb. 22 that Gannett had accepted the District’s offer.

“This is a very exciting time in the Martin County School District,” she stated in the release. “The opportunity to have all of our district-level employees working under the same roof will help us streamline communication, collaboration and operational efficiency. This is something that has been long overdue, and I’m thrilled to see what the future will hold for our district.”

Chairwoman Roberts explained the upcoming timeline to her fellow Board meetings during the March 26 meeting.

“Gannet signed an offer on Feb. 26 and per that offer contract that’s included in this item, we have 45 days from that period of time to execute this,” she said. “Once it is executed, we have 90 days to determine if it’s in the best interest of the Martin County School District. Anytime within that 90 days we would be able to terminate. The 90 days would end on June 24 so we would expect to see this back on June 18 to determine whether we’re going to terminate it or not.”

Ms. Roberts said she also hoped Superintendent Gaylord would provide a facility renovation budget and timeline for the Board’s early June workshop so a final decision could be made whether to continue or terminate. District 2 Board Member Marsha Powers concurred with the need for those and other items as well.

“On the very next day after we sign that, I ask for the renovation budget with a timeline, not just immediate but into the future, because I’m sure there are some things that we would actually tackle early and then some that we would tackle later,” she said. “Then also what that means for consolidation -- what’s the consolidation plan for the departments that are going to be moving into that building and then what is the plan for the vacated spaces, the properties that will be vacated?”

Chairwoman Roberts emphasized that the Board needed to discuss all those items at the early June workshop in order to close by the end of the 90-day due diligence period.

“Our 90 days would be up on June 24, so the feeling was to have it on the June workshop before the June meeting,” she explained. “That gives us the early part of June to have the renovation budget, the timeline, consolidation plan and the plan for the vacated space, to have all those things we would discuss at the June workshop. Then at the June meeting, would be the time when we would take action if we wanted to terminate it.”

Ms. Powers, however, asked Chairwoman Roberts for more time to debate the issues at hand.

“I just think that if the Board has questions and it being such a short timeline for staff to turn around and make adjustments, I’d rather continually have the discussion at our workshops and board meetings from now until that date so that there’s no surprise on June 18,” she said.

Ms. Roberts agreed to that request.

“So, I’ll also schedule it on the May workshop for wherever we are up to that, to whatever we have,” she emphasized. “I think the May workshop is kind of loaded, but we can get that information and put that on the May workshop and also on the June workshop.”

Chairwoman Roberts reminded the Board that a $125,000 deposit would be required within three business days and an additional $250,000 on June 27.

“Then 30 days after the inspection period ends, on July 24, the closing would have to occur,” she said.

Ms. Powers subsequently made the motion to approve the purchase, which was seconded by District 5 Board Member Michael DiTerlizzi and passed unanimously.

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