UPDATED: Lindbergh board awards contract for new administration building

Wachter Inc.’s bid lowest of six submitted

Just after Lindbergh Schools closed on the former Johnnys Market in May, the iconic building was demolished, above.

Just after Lindbergh Schools closed on the former Johnny’s Market in May, the iconic building was demolished, above.

By Mike Anthony

The Lindbergh Board of Education voted earlier this week to award a roughly $6.5 million contract for the construction of a new Central Office building.

Board members voted 6-0 Tuesday night to approve the low bid of $6,561,000 submitted by Wachter Inc. for the two-story, 24,000-square-foot building. Board President Kathy Kienstra was absent.

Six bids were submitted for the construction of the new Central Office building on the 2.2-acre former Johnny’s Market site at 11555 Gravois Road.

Executive Director of Planning and Development Karl Guyer recommended the board accept the low bid.

Other bids submitted for the project were: Layneco Construction Services, $6,569,800; ICS Construction, $6,587,000; K&S Associates, $6,588,000; Wright Construction Services Inc., $6,590,000; and L. Keeley Construction Co., $7,141,000.

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.

The district purchased the former Johnny’s Market site in January at a cost of $1,663,603. In announcing the purchase, officials said the district saved $76,397 by purchasing the site from Meland Properties LLC at less than the certified appraisal price of $1.74 million. Meland Properties purchased the site for $900,000 in 2014.

Lindbergh officials have been criticized for the purchase of the property, as some residents have contended the district overpaid for the property. Two residents — Ron Zytniak, whose wife’s daughter is a district teacher, and Basil Pappas, whose daughter is a district teacher — have criticized the price Lindbergh paid for the property and the independent appraisal the district received from AB Valuation Services for the property.

At the May Board of Education meeting, the district’s purchase of Johnny’s was criticized by Zytniak, who reiterated his criticism of the property purchase at the July board meeting. He also attacked the appraisal, noting the misspelling of “Lindberg” on the front page of the report.

In August, Pappas said that the appraisal the school district received was “substantially flawed,” noting Dan Jones of Meland Properties recommended the appraiser.

While the appraisal cited comparable sales, Pappas noted three properties used by the appraiser were personal residences in Ladue, Town and Country and Chesterfield.

But Triplett told the Call he’s confident about the value of the property and that Lindbergh paid a fair value for it. He said he thoroughly researched the Johnny’s Market purchase every step of the way.

“… I got on the websites and looked at what commercial property was selling for, but I didn’t print off copies of it or put a report together for it,” Triplett said. “I just had it in my head what’s the going square-foot price, which seems to be the big way to measure commercial properties is by the square foot. But I knew what we had tentatively agreed to with the owner, Dan Jones, was actually lower than anything else I was finding …”

Lindbergh paid $17 per square foot for the Johnny’s site, Triplett said, adding he found only one other area property going for $17 per square foot and that was for a 5.51-acre site on South Lindbergh Boulevard.

The sale price of nine similar commercial properties throughout the area averaged $26.73 per square foot, Triplet said, noting Lindbergh’s purchase of the Johnny’s site was 63.61 percent of the average price.

Among the properties cited by Triplett were the former Tesson Ferry Branch County Library in Green Park and the former Bob Evans Restaurant in Sunset Hills.

In February, InSite Real Estate of Oakbrook, Ill., paid $2.4 million for the former 2.34-acre library site at 9920 Lin Ferry Drive. A Fresh Thyme Farmers Market will be constructed on the site. InSite paid $22.55 per square foot for the property, according to Triplett.

In 2013, Western Oil paid $1,725,000 for the 1.29-acre former Bob Evans site at 1430 S. Kirkwood Road. A PetroMart convenience store with gas pumps was constructed on the site. Western Oil paid $30.70 per square foot for the property, according to Triplett.

“Again, should we have perhaps documented more when we were going through that process and will we in the future? Absolutely. But we are completely confident that we did not overpay for that property,” Triplett said of the Johnny’s purchase. “We actually got a good value on it, and we know being central to the school district, that once we get the new administrative offices built there, that’s a half century, if not more, of good service to the school district, and we’ve gotten any number of complimentary letters or comments from community members that are very happy we purchased that property and will revitalize that corner.”

A Call examination of the appraisal report shows that five of the six comparable properties used were residences and not commercial sites. The one commercial site was a retail store in Jennings.

Triplett said he believed the comparables in the appraisal were cited with the idea of constructing a new school.

“Churches and libraries and schools, they can really go kind of anywhere, so it doesn’t just have to be commercial properties. So I think those comps were pulled up with a school in mind versus straight commercial properties,” he said, adding district officials have sought clarification from Angela Beckett of AB Valuation Services.

At the Call’s press time, Beckett had not provided the information requested by the district, according to Communications Director Beth Johnston.

Regarding the appraisal, Triplett said, “It’s not as solid as we would like it to be, but with all the other evidence that we have, again, we’re confident that we got the good price on it. We have lots of vendors that we hire for the district — food service, bus company, athletics trainer — all folks that we trust to do their jobs the way they are supposed to, which is why we hire them. And if they don’t and we find there’s a problem, then we deal with that. But with this situation, we have enough other evidence …

“If that was the only piece of documentation and we found out afterward that we had overpaid for the property, that would make us have a whole lot more concern — not that we aren’t. We do expect everybody to do their jobs, whether they’re vendors or district employees. But again, we’re confident we got a good value on this property,” he said. “As a matter of fact, the gentleman (Dan Jones) we bought it from has offered to buy it back from us if we don’t think we got a good value on it …”