Negotiations over the leasing of the abandoned Rancho Elementary School are in progress between Biola and the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District.
School location convenient for Biolans
According to Michael Pierce, vice president for business and financial affairs, Biola officials first became aware of the property in October 2010 through Mike Crosby, the manager of real estate assets in the finance department.
Ken Bascom, senior director of Facilities Planning, and Pierce agreed that a benefit of the property is its distance from the main 95-acre campus. It is exactly three quarters of a mile from the Biola entrance flagpole to the elementary school’s flagpole.
“The distance from the school to the tennis courts is actually shorter than the distance from the tennis courts to Alphi Chi,” Bascom said.
Biola planned ahead
“After becoming aware of the open property, we had to submit to them a formal, written, sealed bid by Dec. 7,” Pierce said.
In the bid, the school had to provide an audit of financial statements for the last three years and letters of reference from the bank, and they had to indicate if Biola had been in litigation or had been bankrupt, according to Pierce.
“We were well prepared for it, which is why they accepted our bid at the board meeting, and we are now in the process of working with them to actually lease the property,” Pierce said.
Property requires some renovations
The school has been maintained by the school district since its last use; however, many changes will need to be made if Biola decides to use its facilities.
“They actually kept it up; there’s no leaking roofs or anything like that, but it hasn’t been modernized,” said Greg Balsano, vice president of university affairs. “It’s just an elementary school classroom 30 years ago.”
According to Balsano, the main issue is the building’s need for more electricity.
Bascom elaborated on the need to be intentional about the upgrades.
“We need to negotiate what kinds of improvements might be reimbursable versus ones that would be money that we don’t get back,” Bascom said.
Balsano said that air conditioning and heating would be the single biggest reason that an electrical upgrade is necessary.
“When we do that, we make their property much more valuable, and when the lease is up, they can get a lot more money for it because it was already done by someone else,” Balsano said.
Negotiations still in progress
According to Pierce, Biola officials are now in the ‘red-lining’ stage; that is, they cross out things they do not like and add in red the things that they do like.
“We’re going through a final review right now and we’ll send that to them and wait for their comments,” Pierce said. “We found them to be very agreeable, very open to work with us. We think we are establishing a very good working relationship with them, and we haven’t seen anything that would spark problems.”
Pierce’s team is also working on the negotiable point of access to the open field that comes with the property. Pierce said that because the city has been using the fields for recreational purposes on weekends, multiple parties will be involved with the use of the field. The field is not big enough to meet the requirements of a regulation soccer field, but can be used for practice and intramural fields.
Opportunity for growth in some departments
Bascom has given tours to a number of departments, opening them to the possibility of moving.
“We have several departments looking at it and studying it with us until they’re ready to make a decision,” Bascom said. “There are also some departments that know that if they stay where they are, they’re never going to be able to grow within these next few years, whereas they would be able to have some expanded space over there.”
“Someone could really build their own identity there if they wanted their own program housed there,” Balsano said.
The process of the lease is still underway, and an official compromise is waiting to be met.