Lindbergh will build Central Office on former Johnny’s Market site

School district will use reserves to fund purchase of property

Lindbergh Schools will construct a two-story Central Office building on the site of the former Johnny's Market at Sappington and Gravois roads. This photo of Johnny's Market, a south county institution that featured a variety of local produce and foods, was taken shortly before the store closed its doors in 2012 after 68 years in business.

Lindbergh Schools will construct a two-story Central Office building on the site of the former Johnny’s Market at Sappington and Gravois roads. This photo of Johnny’s Market, a south county institution that featured a variety of local produce and foods, was taken shortly before the store closed its doors in 2012 after 68 years in business.

By Mike Anthony

A two-story, 20,000-square-foot building to house Lindbergh Schools’ Central Office will be constructed on the site of the former Johnny’s Market at Sappington and Gravois roads.

As the Call reported online last week, the school district purchased the former Johnny’s Market property at 11555 Gravois Road at a cost of $1.66 million.

The district closed Jan. 11 on the purchase of the 2.2-acre property, Superintendent Jim Simpson told the Call.

Lindbergh’s Central Office currently is housed at Lindbergh High School, and occupies roughly 20,000 square feet there.

Central Office has 12 departments and about 50 employees overseeing such district-level programs as technology, facilities, curriculum, finance and human resources.

Construction of the new Central Office building will be completed by fall 2017, restoring eight to 10 classrooms at the high school to address the surging enrollment the district is facing.

Lindbergh High Principal Eric Cochran told the Board of Education last month that every classroom is in use and class sizes are increasing, with several at 28 students and some at 29 students.

Projections show that high school enrollment will continue increasing to 750 students per grade level by 2020.

“Step one of the solution was vacating the high school and giving them the classroom space they need for the growth headed their way,” Simpson said. “But then that led to the very tough question of where would you go?”

District officials considered other sites for the new Central Office, but discounted those locations because of accessibility and geographic concerns. Officials then considered the Johnny’s Market site, recalling that a gas station and car wash proposed there had been opposed by nearby residents.

A bill to approve the gas station without a car wash later was dropped from consideration by then-County Council Chairman Pat Dolan, D-Richmond Heights.

“… That gas station didn’t make it. Let’s just make some inquiries, and that led to the purchase of Johnny’s Market, which we’re very happy about …,” Simpson said, noting the location and lot size are perfect for the district’s needs.

The existing structure on the site will be razed, he said, adding the new building also will help the school district energize the community.

“… A really nice, modern building at that location is going to be another visible sign of prosperity and dynamism in the community and hopefully will spur other investors to move up and down that section of Gravois and do some good things,” he said. “It works for the neighbors. We’ve already heard from the neighbors …”

The time frame for construction also works because of the anticipated growth at Lindbergh High School.

“… Growth is a chess game in which you have to make your moves a couple years in advance and you have to arrive at the exact place the growth arrives at — a difficult thing to do. And we’ve been able to do that in this district remarkably well and this one was also really good because the growth that’s hitting the high school will be there in three years. It’s already growing, but the big, heavy growth starts hitting in three years and continues after that. We’ll be out, so the classrooms will be here (at the high school) when the growth gets here.”

In December, district officials pledged to address the growth at the high school using available resources and not with a tax-rate increase or a bond issue. As such, the property purchase is being funded with district reserves. No operating funds will be used.

“Reserves are healthy and they’ve allowed us to make some one-time purchases that allow these chess moves (for growth),” he said, citing the construction of the new Early Childhood Education West building, which also was funded from reserves. The building opened in August.

The estimated $4 million cost of the new Central Office building will be funded by issuing certificates of participation, or COPs, according to the superintendent.

“We’ll use COPs to fund the $4 million for the building,” Simpson said, adding that Chief Financial Officer Charles Triplett has worked out the specifics of the financing. “It’s very advantageous for us. For the first four or five years, it’s about $75,000 (per year).”

A future bond issue possibly could be used to retire those COPs and roll the remaining debt into the bond issue, which then would be paid by the district’s debt-service fund.

But Simpson doesn’t expect a bond issue to be proposed for at least five years.