MODESTO — The purchase of the old Starn Auto Body building took a baby step forward Tuesday with a public hearing before the Stanislaus County Board of Education.
The county office put a $25,000 refundable deposit on the property at 10th and E streets, just four blocks from its downtown Modesto headquarters. The county office envisions a makeover of the $575,000 property and an adjacent vacant city lot for parking.
The project could cost more than $4 million, county office business chief Don Gatti has said. The plan is to use reserves to build the project, then restore that financial cushion with money now spent leasing or renting other facilities.
Leasing county-owned space behind the coroner's facility on Oakdale Road costs $140,000 a year, Assistant Superintendent Sue Rich told board members. Renting a costume shop and office space for the student performing troupe Youth Entertainment Stage Company costs $23,400. Since October, renting space for countywide trainings and other office functions has cost $42,000.
The roughly $200,000 in savings would offset project costs in about 20 years. Additional savings, Rich said, would come from staff spending less time moving boxes and having dependable technology connections at a dedicated site.
More efficient operations could be key as the state leans toward changing how it funds county offices, Rich indicated. County offices of education provide oversight and assistance for districts, as well as alternative education for expelled students and others.
Before the project can happen, however, it must survive a number of potential deal breakers, Rich said. First among them is that the former auto repair site must be relatively clear of environmental contamination. A deal must be reached with the city for parking space. Finally, the project must be affordable and not interfere with funding for other projects.
"These are pretty hefty contingencies," Rich told the board. "We're being very careful, very cautious."
Superintendent Tom Changnon said his office is working with architects to consider design possibilities, has started environmental studies on the property and is in talks with the city over its vacant lot.
No members of the public spoke to the issue. Board Chairman Luis Molina said major contamination issues would kill the project, "but it's the right thing to do to at least look at the possibility."
In other matters, the board:
Heard about a Feb. 4 training for law enforcement and educators that will stage a school shooting scenario at a county office campus. Student actors and Explorers will be "victims" for the afternoon, which will be filmed for distribution throughout the state.
Got a report on student character education by Fred Bigler, SCOE director of community support services. County programs for expelled students work to help teens develop what he called internal controls, learning how to critique and improve their behavior.
Asked county staff to analyze if moving to a paperless office would save money, including reducing storage leasing costs. Molina asked staff to examine the pension obligations incurred by the county superintendent, the only employee whose pay the board directly controls.
Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2339, and on Twitter, @NanAustin.