Westfield schools looking to cash in on valuable land

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The state’s $600 million overhaul of U.S. 31 in Hamilton County could be a boon to Westfield Washington Schools, which is selling 14 acres of prime property near what will become one of 10 interstate-like interchanges on the highway.

Commercial developers already have expressed interest in the two parcels of land at the northeast corner of U.S. 31 and State Road 32—now home to the school district’s administration building, football/track stadium and junior varsity baseball field.

“We’ve been told it will be a very valuable piece of land after the 31 upgrade,” said Nick Verhoff, executive director of business and operations for the 6,400-student district. “Too valuable to have kids playing on it.”

Westfield Washington last year launched its “Build the Rock” campaign to pay for a $7.5 million stadium farther north, at Westfield High School. Plans call for a community stadium with artificial turf that could host more than 100 events a year.

Officials said the existing stadium is poorly located for the pedestrian traffic that games attract, and the facility is not large enough to accommodate droves of fans. Then there’s the value of the property.

“Developers have indicated [that] may be the most desirable intersection in all of Hamilton County,” Superintendent Mark Keen said when the campaign launched.

So the school district listed the 14.1 acres for sale last month; bids are due May 15.

The minimum bid: $5.4 million, which the district says is 90 percent of the property’s appraised value.

If offers aren’t high enough, Verhoff said the district could opt to wait on a sale. Officials also have to consider the cost of relocating the administration building.

“The price has to be right,” he said. “We owe it to taxpayers to make the best use of our assets.”

A new owner would need to have the property rezoned to allow for anything other than educational uses. Verhoff said city officials have indicated that won’t be a problem, given the area’s commercial potential.

The land is just east of Westfield’s massive Grand Park sports complex, expected to open next year. City spokeswoman Carrie Cason said planners are hoping to attract hotels, restaurants and other entertainment venues nearby.

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