Warminster Board Okays Start of WREC Closure
Negotiations will begin for the handing over of the property to Centennial School District. Current tenants will have five months to leave the premises.
The Warminster Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to bring the fate of the WREC Center to what township manager Rich Manfredi called it's "inevitable conclusion."
With the 5-0 approval from the board, Manfredi and township solicitor Mary Eberle will begin the process of giving complete ownership of the property back to the Centennial School District. The remaining tenants that did not move to Leary last year will have until the end of the year to find new space for their operations.
Manfredi pledged to concerned resisdents that space for the Parks and Recreation Department's programs would be acquired. He cited the library and Ben Wilson Senior Center as possible locations and said more options are under consideration.
"I think it is a fair assumption that we will find the space we need to continue these programs by the end of the year," said board vice-chairperson Tom Panzer.
The township needed to accelerate its search for an answer to the WREC question last spring when a few of the building's rent-paying tenants decided to move operations to Leary Elementary. The move cost the parks department a large chunk of revenue, to the tune of $119,000, Manfredi said Thursday night.
A special advisory committee was formed to analyze the situation and come up with options for the community center, while the township officials continued talks with the school district.
The township has spent the past few years attempting to work out an agreement with the school district that would remove reversionary interest clauses from the lease, but to no avail. Centennial officials inserted the clauses and deed restrictions on the property when it sold Hart Elementary to Warminster for $1 in 1988, Eberle said.
"Those reversionary clauses completely hamstrung the township," said Eberle. She said the school district could simply take the property back whenever it wanted, a possibility that prevented the township from making any major renovations.
An agreement was made in 2009 that would have Centennial remove the clauses for $1 million, a sum made up of $272,000 in permit and zoning fee waivers by the township and money from the Bucks County Open Space fund.
Eberle told supervisors Thursday night that an application for the open space funds was never submitted. A representative from the county told Eberle that the grant would have probably been denied anyway because a deed restriction already protected the open space on the property. Nonetheless, the waivers were still granted, and Eberle figures that money is owed back to the township.
"This is not a happy ending," said supervisor Frank Feinberg. "We had earnest negotiations with the school district, and we did everything we promised, but the school board just opted out."
During a review of the WREC's timeline, Eberle revealed that Warminster officials expressed interest in acquiring the Longstreth property when it was put up for sale by the school district, along with Leary and Stackpole. Centennial representatives asked for more fee waivers in lieu of cash payment, but an analysis of the request by township engineer Craig Kennard showed that the waivers totaled up to more than $1 million.
Not long after, the school district approved the sale of all three school properties to County Builders, Inc. for a grand total of $1.3 million, or approximately $450,000 per site.
As the parks department programs scatter throughout the township, board president Leo Quinn hopes the situation will springboard his vision of having a new centralized community center at Warminster Community Park.
Even if the township managed to remove the interest clause from the lease, he said, they would still have the major expense of rehabilitating a 60-year old building. Now, the parks and recreation department can continue building its reserve fund, which Manfredi said is at approximately $1 million.