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Lawrence Township finds buyers for surplus buildings

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The Lawrence Township school district has sold one building, has three offers for another and is seeking tenants for 100,000 square feet in a third building as it follows through with a plan launched last fall to dispose of its surplus real estate.

The district closed two weeks ago on the sale of a 15,700-square-foot building at Fort Harrison. The buyer was The Hutson School, a K-12 school for students with language-based learning disabilities.

Tim Norton, a principal in Summit Realty Group, the firm hired by Lawrence Township to assess the district’s real estate holdings, said the building at 5626 Lawton Loop East Drive sold for the $1.4 million asking price. The sale included 11 acres of adjacent land.

A church that had been leasing the building has moved out, and the school has embarked on $170,000 in improvements, including a new roof and cosmetic upgrades, to prepare the building for 85 students and 30 faculty members later this summer, said school headmaster Janet George.

George said the school is being renamed Fortune Academy to recognize $500,000 in gifts from local philanthropist Richard H. Fortune and his family’s foundation that went toward the purchase of the building. This fall will mark the start of the private, not-for-profit school’s 11th year. It is relocating from space it rents from a Lutheran church at 75th Street and Shadeland Avenue. Fortune Academy was represented in the building purchase by Chriss Horton of One Source Commercial Realty.

The Lawrence Township school district also has decided to sell the 46,370-square-foot original Lawrence Central High School at 8301 E. 46th St.

Norton said three offers, all near the $650,000 asking price, are on the table. The school board is expected at its July 9 meeting to accept one of the offers, all of which are from developers of senior housing that propose retrofitting the building to house from 42 and 60 apartments. The building, which includes 2.4 acres of land, was built in 1923 as the township high school. Most recently the district used it for storage and to house its maintenance division.

Those functions and the district’s administrative offices are now housed at the former Craig Middle School, 6501 Sunnyside Road, which became the Lawrence Education and Community Center last year. Norton said the building has about 100,000 square feet of excess space that his firm is shopping to not-for-profit tenants. The asking rent is $15 a square foot, full service.

The consolidation of functions into that 246,000-square-foot building precipitated the district’s decision to hire Summit to evaluate its real estate assets, Robin Phelps, the district’s chief financial officer, told IBJ last October.

The district’s offices had been housed in a 20,800-square-foot administration building at 7601 E. 56th St. Based on Summit’s recommendation, the district has decided to raze that building, which is adjacent to Belzer Middle School. The land will be used for a softball field and additional parking for the school. Norton said leasing or selling the building wasn’t feasible considering the improvements it needs.

Lawrence Township is fortunate to have been able to resolve its surplus assets situation in a relatively short amount of time, especially given the lackluster real estate market, Norton said.

“These are difficult properties, even in good times,” he said.

Phelps, the CFO, said the district is happy with the outcome. "The district has been pleased at how quickly we've received offers on the properties," she said.

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