Garfield Elementary School has been sitting empty for 18 months but, if all goes well, by this time next year it will have new life as an apartment complex for senior citizens.
During a special meeting Tuesday morning, the Abilene USD 435 Board of Education approved a real estate purchase agreement with Gilmore & Associates, LLC, of Hesston, selling the 75-year-old former school for $1.
“It’s good to think Garfield will have a second life. It’s been a great building and served many students in our community well,” said Board Member Debby Barbur. “I appreciate you taking this leap of faith and giving it new life.”
Opening in mid-April 1942, Garfield Elementary closed in December 2015 when students left for Christmas break. Classes reconvened in January 2016 in the new Dwight D. Eisenhower Elementary.
The new school was part of a $24.2 million bond issue approved by USD 435 voters in 2014 that resulted in new additions and building improvements at Abilene High and Middle schools and improvements at Kennedy and McKinley elementaries.
When the board decided to sell Garfield, one of the requirements was that any purchaser would need to demonstrate they would use it in a way that’s “consistent with the best interests” of USD 435 and its patrons. Also, the purchaser would need to demonstrate they have the financial means to maintain and care for the building.
“I know the board is very interested in the purpose of the building,” said Superintendent Denise Guy, explaining why she asked brothers Andy Gilmore of Kansas City and Josh Gilmore of Manhattan to explain their plans. “I know how important it is that it’s something the community will benefit from,” she said.
Serving the community
Gilmore & Associates is a small, family-owned real estate/development company out of Hesston, which in recent years, has focused on redeveloping property in smaller communities to serve the community, Andy Gilmore said.
They learned about the school after the district issued an RFP (Request for Proposal) in September 2016 seeking buyers interested in purchasing the building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
They were intrigued by the school board’s promise to the community to revitalize Garfield Elementary, Andy explained.
“That definitely piqued our interest,” Andy said. “We started taking a look at this project and understanding what we could do with the building.”
The company first examined market indicators in Abilene and Dickinson County, looking to determine what kind of facility was needed. They found an area with an aging population and a number of positives (including the Eisenhower Presidential Library and other attractions) and decided a senior independent living facility would be the best fit.
“We did some research on our own in the community and looked at senior independent facilities in Hillsboro, Salina, Concordia, Manhattan and Junction City just to get an idea on what market saturation is like,” Josh Gilmore said. “We found a need in that general region.”
After getting a good response while meeting with Guy and a couple board members in March, the Gilmores conducted more in-depth research. A major selling point was “absorption” —or how soon market demand will fill the space.
“We’re looking at two months for this absorption period — filling 15 units at Garfield,” Josh said.
“We started looking at Garfield Elementary School to understand how we could use the current facility and convert it into a market rate independent senior living facility,” Andy explained.
“Being on the historical register, that was a major item for us to consider. We want to maintain its historical significance for the community and continue its tradition of service to the community.”
With that in mind, the company came up with a floor plan that includes 15 apartments — 13 one-bedroom units and two with two bedrooms. The original Kindergarten room, with its glass block wall on the east side, will be a community room with a fireplace for residents to congregate, watch TV, play games, read, etc.
The apartments will be “open concept” design including a full kitchen and laundry area so residents will not have to go to a separate laundry room.
“There’s quite a few steps that have to be worked through to maintain the building’s historical significance,” Andy said, noting the last few months they’ve spent considerable time working to understand exactly what those requirements are and how to fulfill them.
“We brought in consultants to walk us through that process,” he said.
“The Garfield” will have an office for the manager, located next to the community room. Outside, the parking area — which may be covered — will be north of the building and there should be space for community gardens.
The west side of the building, which includes the school’s gym, stage and kitchen, will not be developed during the first phase. The brothers said they haven’t determined how that area will be used.
“Once we get the first phase of the project done, we’ll revaluate and work with the community and residents and see what the best use of that space is,” Andy said.
The Gilmores already have most of their construction team in place with McCown Gordon of Manhattan working with design and as builder.
The brothers said they are working with another firm to make sure they meet the requirements of the historical tax credit program and that all design and construction meet state and federal requirements.
If all goes well, the company hopes to begin construction by December with project completion in April 2018.
Before the school district and Gilmores can close on the property, Guy told the board several contingencies have to be met:
• The board will need to approve expansion of the Neighborhood Revitalization tax rebate program. Guy said City of Abilene Community Development Director James Holland will meet with them in August about that. The city and Dickinson County also will need to approve it.
The current zone ends on Seventh Street and needs to be moved one block north to cover Garfield, she said.
• The (seller) district has completed the process to rezone the property to R-3, which is a High Density Residential District. Guy said the paperwork already has been filed with the City, and
• The buyer must be approved for financing its planned renovations to the property in the amount of $2.9 million at an interest rate not to exceed 5 percent per year for a term of at least 20 years.
Guy and the Gilmore brothers said if all the contingencies have not been met by Sept. 30 the parties will meet to discuss how to proceed.
Board member Kari-Porter Murray questioned the brothers about the interest rate and years.
“I’m curious where you came up with these numbers and where you’re at to make sure it’s something we’ll be able to achieve,” she asked.
“We discussed this with the lender we’re in negotiation with,” Josh Gilmore explained. “So far, it looks like a realistic plan. It’s a conservative number. I think we’ll be under that on multiple levels.”
Board members said they were pleased with the proposal. Board President Mark Wilson said it was great the building will find new use.
“That lot has been part of Abilene from the very start,” he said. “Numerous school buildings were there.”
Board member Gregg Noel said he appreciated the Gilmores’ due diligence in visiting with the city and community leaders about the development and finding the best fit for Abilene.
“It’s important to have a partnership with the community and you’ve done that,” he said.