MODESTO — The Stanislaus County Office of Education is looking at buying another downtown property, saying it needs more meeting and event space beyond what it has in its main building at 11th and H streets and in the Martin Petersen Event Center across the street at 720 12th St.
Meanwhile, the city is trying to lure more users to Modesto Centre Plaza, at 10th and K Streets, which the city rents out for meetings and events.
This looks to us like an opportunity for two publicly funded organizations to work together.
At the very least, we urge city and county school leaders to have some serious discussions before the Office of Education spends millions to buy and renovate the old Ray Starn Auto Body Shop at 10th and E streets.
There's no doubt it would be more convenient for the county schools people to have their own building. Administrators suggest that the space could be used for teacher training sessions, plus practice and operations space for the popular Youth Entertaining Stage (YES) Company. But so far, convenience seems to have getting more attention than looking for the least expensive option(s).
The county office of education currently rents space from Stanislaus County in spite of the name similarity, a separate government entity out at the old County Center III, at Scenic Drive and Oakdale Road. That's where the county schools office was located until it moved downtown in 2000, after the county offices moved to Tenth Street Place.
The schools people say they are spending about $163,400 a year to rent space from other government entities, churches, etc. They estimate the Starn project, including additional land for parking and a major renovation, at $4.5 million. Using those numbers, the project would pencil out over 27 years.
What the county schools office hasn't done is have serious negotiations with the county about reducing the rental rates and improving the security for the facilities at County Center III. Or talk to the city about a better rate for regular use at Modesto Centre Plaza.
After Bee editors asked some questions about cheaper alternatives, County Superintendent of Schools Tom Changnon promised that such discussions would take place before they proceed on purchasing the Starn property.
Changnon also stresses that the purchase is not a done deal. The county schools put down a $25,000 refundable deposit on the Starn site, with six contingencies. They include environmental studies showing no serious contamination at the former auto body shop, the appraisal supporting the $575,000 purchase price and the cost of renovations and remodeling being "reasonable."
Too often we see one government entity justify purchasing and/or building facilities and another government agency doing the same, without any consideration of sharing. Neither recognizes that taxpayers are footing the bill for all of it, no matter whose name is on the building.
This appears to be a ripe opportunity for public agencies to try to share space and save money.