Mehlville school board votes to list St. John’s property with realty firm

By Alyson E. Raletz

The Mehlville Board of Education voted unanimously during a recent closed session to enter into negotiations with the Lechner Realty Group for an exclusive 90-day listing contract for the St. John’s Elementary School campus, according to Superintendent Tim Ricker.

The board’s action, taken last week, came less than a month after Proposition P Oversight Committee members asked administrators to seek public input regarding potential problems that could prevent the construction of a new early childhood center on the site.

In formulating a facilities master plan more than three years ago, the school district’s Citizens’ Advisory Committee for Facilities recommended that St. John’s Elementary School be razed and a new early childhood center be constructed on the Will Avenue site.

In August 2000, the Board of Education voted to accept the facilities master plan, which was placed on the Nov. 15, 2000, ballot as the Proposition P districtwide building improvement program. Mehlville voters approved a 49-cent tax-rate increase to fund Proposition P, then estimated to cost nearly $68.4 million. The Board of Education this fall approved a revised budget totaling more than $86.7 million for the building program.

District administrators announced last month there are significant site problems with St. John’s Elementary School and it might not be razed to create room for the early childhood center — the final project of Proposition P.

Board members have not authorized the sale of the St. John’s property, Ricker said.

“That’s not to say the district, the Board of Education will sell it,” he told the Call. “That’s not to say that they won’t sell it. It’s just to market it.”

The board voted during the Dec. 15 closed session to enter into negotiations with the Lechner Realty Group for an exclusive 90-day listing contract for the St. John’s Elementary School campus.

“… What they voted was to, (Vice President) Mr. (Matthew) Chellis made a motion and Mr. (Bill) Schornheuser seconded the motion to extend a (listing) contract with Lechner Realty Group, OK, to negotiate on behalf of the district the sale of the St. John’s School campus,” Ricker said.

But Ricker refused to disclose the exact wording of the motion contending that names included in the motion, if disclosed, could have an adverse effect on the sale of the property.

Asked to clarify the board’s action in writing, Ricker faxed a Dec. 19 statement to the Call, which read, “Mrs. Rita Diekemper made a motion, seconded by Mr. Mike Heins, that the Board of Education enter into negotiations with Lechner Realty for a listing contract for the St. John School campus for a period of 90 days.”

Asked about the discrepancy regarding who made the motion and who seconded it, School/Community Relations Director Patrick Wallace told the Call Monday morning that he had contacted Ricker and Ricker said the information contained in the faxed statement was correct.

When the Call asked Ricker on Friday how much the Lechner Realty Group would be paid, Ricker refused to discuss the cost, saying the amount Lechner Realty would receive is contingent on the sale of the property, he said, and he would not disclose that information.

“In that contract is confidential information that could reveal on pricing, so that we’re not going to be releasing the details of some of the components of that,” Ricker told the Call.

The state’s Open Meetings and Records Law, also called the Sunshine Law, permits governmental bodies to conduct closed sessions to discuss the “leasing, purchase or sale of real estate … where public knowledge of the transaction might adversely affect the legal consideration therefor.”

S. Gino Pucci, Lechner Realty Group vice president, is responsible for marketing, studying the property and performing other broker duties, Ricker said.

Asked how the Lechner Realty Group was selected, Ricker said, “From our past practice and past use of the firm.”

But Ricker said the district did not issue a request for proposals seeking the services of a real estate broker.

“We didn’t do an RFP,” the superintendent said. “We’re using (Lechner) based on our past practice.”

Asked when the district last used the services of the Lechner Realty Group, Ricker said, “I couldn’t actually tell you when the last time was.”

Last week was not the first time the Lechner Realty Group has been discussed during closed session of the Board of Education. Ricker previously told the Call that board members were informed during an October closed session of the site development problems with St. John’s.

“From that perspective, the board was saying, well, we need to know if there is land or isn’t land available, so we probably ought to talk about, you know, hooking up with Gino Pucci again, like we did for other land developments we’ve been interested in the past.” Ricker previously told the Call.

Though the CACF had recommended the St. John’s campus as the site for the new early childhood center, Ricker now says the cost to develop the site would be extremely expensive — $470,000.

Beyond the greater-than-anticipated cost, Ricker told Proposition P Oversight Committee members Nov. 25 that the center’s preliminary design also raises aesthetic concerns — causing administrators to look into other locations for an early childhood center. Since September, district officials have been concerned with access and many other issues at the St. John’s facility, according to Ricker.

Administrators also presented cost estimates to construct the early childhood center on the Mehlville High and Beasley Elementary campuses at the November Oversight Committee meeting. Site development at the Mehlville High campus would cost the district $1.275 million, which is nearly half of the center’s Proposition P construction budget of $2.636 million. Site development on the Beasley campus would cost $365,000 — $105,000 less than the estimated site development cost at St. John’s.

Any change in the location of the early childhood center would deviate from the facilities master plan recommended by the CACF and accepted by the board.

Ricker previously told the Call that he would invite members of the CACF, the Early Childhood Center Task Force and the public to a forum to discuss the site problems with St. John’s and other alternative sites for the early childhood center.

But that forum will not take place until February, according to Ricker.

Ricker told the Call that board members are keeping their minds open and are waiting for input from the public and the Oversight Committee before they make any decision about selling the St. John’s site.

Executive Editor Mike Anthony contributed some information to this article.