Following an hour-long executive session, the Warminster Board of Supervisors and Centennial School Board came to an agreement on principal that will provide a short-term answer to some questions that have arisen regarding the future of Leary Elementary and the WREC Center.
In the deal, Warminster will issue a temporary Use and Occupancy Certificate to Centennial so that the school district can use Leary as an educational services building. The certificate will be good for one year, which is the length of the leases signed by the new Leary tenants, the Bucks County Intermediate Unit, Head Start, BARC and Time for Tots.
In exchange, Warminster will be allowed to use the Leary facility to house the operations of the parks and recreation department, rent-free. The township will handle snow removal and grass cutting.
Township solicitor Michael Savona and Centennial attorney John VanLuvanee felt that the deal provides more breathing room for both parties to decide the ultimate fate of the WREC Center, formerly Hart Elementary.
Members of the school board and township board agreed that the meeting presented a great opportunity to directly communicate with each other and the residents.
"We've got the ball rolling," said school board Vice President Tom Reinboth. "We made great strides by having all the players here in front of the public."
Since 1988, Warminster has owned the title on the WREC, but the school district has maintained a reversionary interest on the site that would allow Centennial to take back the school if either Warminster ceased using it for municipal functions, or if the district decided it needed the building back to serve its own purposes.
This reversionary interest has prevented the township from pumping large amounts of money into keeping the WREC in the best condition. Expenses have been made to maintain the building and keep it habitable, but major renovations, such as a brand new roof, have been avoided.
A deal had been formed two years ago that would allow the township to purchase the reversionary interest from the school district for $1 million, which was one-third of the WREC's appraisal. The funds would be comprised of the waiver of zoning and permit fees for the construction of the new high school, totaling $272,000, and the remainder from the Bucks County Open Space Fund.
Since then, two things happened: the $728,000 from the county has not materialized, and the WREC's tenants have signed leases for Leary, taking away $190,000 that was used to help maintain the WREC.
"The township would be hemorrhaging money to keep it open without those tenants," said supervisor Ellen Jarvis.
With the building in such a deteriorating condition, the township doesn't believe it will be able to find new tenants, and it doesn't have the money to order the kind of renovations the WREC needs to become attractive.
Savona has scheduled a new appraisal of the WREC, which he predicts will show a reduced value for the property, down to about $1.5 million, due to its condition and the lousy real estate market.
To avoid overpaying for the reversionary interest, Warminster wants to negotiate a new deal that will incorporate the $272,000 in waivers already given, plus new considerations, including a 25-foot wide easement from Constance Drive to the entrance of the school bus depot on Street Road, a reduction of fees for the McDonald School construction and the township's support of Centennial's zoning application for Leary and Longstreth.
Savona believes the total of these considerations will match the one-third value of the WREC's new appraisal and satisfy the terms of the original agreement, a point with which VanLuvanee disagreed.
All parties agreed to continue negotiating in good faith in the months ahead. If they manage to reach an agreement, Warminster plans to sell the WREC for redevelopment.