Last updated: July 18. 2013 7:37PM - 253 Views
Ralph B. Davis

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PRESTONSBURG — Members of the city council took a tentative step Monday night toward potentially buying the old Prestonsburg Elementary property, with an eye toward using it for a long-planned community center.

Discussion began with council member David Gearheart’s report from the city’s projects committee. Gearheart said the committee discussed seeking quotes from financial institutions to restructure the city’s current debt in order to pay for the purchase.

“Some of us have talked about the possibility borrowing the money to purchase a place, bidding it out and extending that loan out to 20 years or so, where it wouldn’t affect our current budget,” Gearheart said. “We would just pay the payments that we’re currently budgeting right now. It would just take those loan payments out to a rate where we could do that.”

Gearheart said he believes a purchase could jump-start the project, but the property would also be available for other uses, if the community center doesn’t pan out.

“I think that one thing that’s very important for us to do is maybe look at it and talk about purchasing a site,” Gearheart said. “That way, if we do have the opportunity and the funds become available, we’re ready to go. And also by purchasing a site, if it doesn’t work out, we would have something that we could market for a big business or some larger business or businesses to come onto.”

Gearheart asked Mayor Jerry Fannin about the price of two pieces of property in particular, including the old grade school as well as another tract at Cliffside, as potential sites for a community center. Fannin said the Cliffside property was priced at $800,000 sometime back, but it would require a lot of drainage work. The school property, on the other hand, would cost the city $1 million.

The city had explored purchasing the property before, when it was being sold by the school system, and had put in a $300,o00 bid. The board, however, rejected that price and rebid it, ultimately selling it to Roland Gray for $500,000.

Gearheart said that he believes the city would have ultimately been out $1 million anyway, if it had purchased the property from the school system.

“At first, I thought we could have purchased it for $500,000,” Gearheart said. “But then you’ve got to look at all the tear-down, the fill work, hauling all of that stuff off. If you look at that, it’s probably going to jack it up close to that anyway.

“If we wanted to try to look at buying a piece of property like this anyway, like this, it’s right in the middle of our town, it’s something where if we can get the funds, we can do it. If absolutely not, we can go out and market this property in the middle of our town.”

Gearheart suggested the council vote to take bids on refinancing the city’s debt to pay for buying the school property, but other council members were more hesitant.

Council member Les Stapleton wondered how much the city would be required to spend in order to build the center out of the floodplain. A general consensus in the council room is the center would need to be raised 12 feet, but Economic Development Director Mike Vance pointed out that the city could accomplish that by building new garage bays for emergency vehicles and building the center above that.

Council member Harry Adams said he is also concerned about how much the center will cost to operate once built.

“I have to have more answers, before I start to vote on it,” Adams said.

Adams stressed, however, that he is in favor of building a center, but he wants the council to determine how it is going to pay to operate it.

“I don’t want to stop the project, but I do want to ask the questions,” Adams said.

Vance said the city will have a better idea of those costs, once work is completed on a feasibility study, and some of those answers could be available by the time the council meets again. He said the study has already determined that Prestonsburg residents overwhelmingly want the center located downtown.

In the end, the council voted to seek proposals on refinancing its debt, to see if it will be feasible to buy the property. The council also agreed to obtain an appraisal on the property, to make sure it is getting a fair price. Both measures passed unanimously.

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