MODESTO — The Stanislaus County Office of Education has put in an exploratory bid for the shuttered Ray Starn Auto Body shop at 10th and E streets in downtown Modesto, part of a larger plan that would wrap in adjacent city land along Ninth Street.
The county Board of Education approved a $25,000 refundable deposit toward the building's purchase price of $575,000. Total price tag for the larger project, if all the pieces fall into place, could reach $4.5 million.
Stanislaus County Superintendent Tom Changnon said the 28,000-square-foot Starn building could be remodeled to include storage, YES Company office and rehearsal space, and a larger event center. The empty city lot would be paved over for parking.
But the dream faces a number of potential hurdles, any of which could scuttle the project. SCOE attached six contingencies to its bid deposit:
Environmental studies must yield no significant cleanup issues for the former auto body shop site
The city of Modesto must agree to sell or lease the adjacent half-block for parking
The cost of renovations and remodeling must be reasonable
It must not affect the county office's status in qualifying for state building funds for school facilities
SCOE will be able to fund the project
The appraisal supports the $575,000 purchase price.
Using the education serv-ice agency's deep reserves, SCOE essentially could give itself an interest-free loan to complete the project, said Don Gatti, head of the county office business division.
The agency would pay itself back over an estimated 27 years using savings from leases and rental fees it now pays. It costs SCOE $163,400 a year for such leases and rentals, Gatti said.
The lion's share goes for space at the old County Center III complex on Oakdale Road, where stored vehicles are often vandalized, he said. The Youth Entertainment Stage Company, a student drama program, rents facilities for practice and operations.
SCOE's frequent teacher and administrator training sessions are held at the Petersen Event Center next to its H Street headquarters. Overflow bookings have gone to churches, school facilities and the Modesto Centre Plaza.
Although the large city facility is seeking more bookings, using it includes charges for food, drink and technology. Gatti said the county office has paid $60 for a pot of coffee, $45 for two dozen cookies, and $660 for use of a screen, speakers and permission to plug in its own projector.
Plus, the county office staff has to haul supplies to every event. Having a dedicated space nearby would save money, be more convenient and make scheduling easier, Gatti noted.
The Starn building was built in 1956 and sits on a half-acre. It was an expansion for Ray Starn, who started repairing cars in 1932 and opened his auto body business in another location in 1943.
Daughter Karen Starn Dyer took over in 1982 and closed the business in June 2011, blaming the recession and more insurers selling wrecked cars as "totaled" instead of repairing them.
Next door, Lovelady's Body and Paint Shop continues to patch up and fix vehicles, as it has since 1974. The business moved to 10th and D in 1984 and would welcome a new neighbor, said co-owner Kelli Lovelady-Bergstrom.
"We would love to have it filled. I think it's good to have businesses open and not sitting vacant," she said. "We look forward to whoever takes it."
Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2339, and on Twitter, @NanAustin.