The Omaha Public Schools board chose community over cash for the future of a century-old building known as the Yates Community Center.
On Monday night, the school board rejected a bid of $630,000 and approved a bid of $100,000 for the building near 32nd Avenue and Davenport Street in the Gifford Park neighborhood.
The board voted to declare the property as surplus and sell the building, valued in the range of $600,600 to $737,100, in June, and received two bids.
Elkco Properties offered $630,000, with the intent of converting the property into a senior living center that would maintain the current community garden and offer use of its community rooms for meetings, programs, lectures and social gatherings.
Yates Illuminates offered $100,000 with the intent of creating a community-owned space. The project has the backing of the Weitz Family Foundation, Gifford Park Neighborhood Association, the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce and Metro Community College.
Through the Weitz foundation, Yates Illuminates found a private donor to give $1 million. Plans show that the group offered $100,000 for the building, then planned to use the rest of the money for significant upgrades.
The Refugee Empowerment Center, Metro college, Great Plains Theater Commons and others would offer educational programming there.
The board voted 6-1 to sell the property to Yates Illuminates. Board member Lou Ann Goding voted no, Ben Perlman abstained and Nancy Krakty was absent. Approval of the sale required six votes.
District officials had recommended selling the property to the highest bidder. In board documents, the district said the higher offer “complies with the board’s fiduciary responsibility to act in the best interests of the entire district and the taxpayers that support us.”
The district’s lawyer told board members that they have a responsibility to try get the most possible for the assets they have available to them.
Board member Amanda Ryan said she understands the taxpayer argument but said refugees and immigrants “are a huge economic benefit to our country and our community.”
Board member Kimara Snipe said the decision isn’t about popularity but about understanding that “sometimes you have to do what’s best for most of the people.”
Board members Tracy Casady and Marque Snow said selling the building to Yates Illuminates was the right thing to do.
Perlman pressed his fellow board members for details on the Yates Illuminates project, but his questions were met with silence. Snow said that meant that they chose not to answer, not that they didn’t know the answers.
OPS purchased the land for $15,000 in 1915 and built a school on it in 1918. Scott Roberts, the district’s chief financial officer, said the inflation-adjusted value of the land purchase is $386,000.
When the school board put the property up for sale in June, the board restricted its future use to educational purposes for a term of 10 years.
”So once the 10-year requirement is up, there’s really no restriction on the use of that property,” Goding said. “We’re kind of talking about it as though it’s a forever thing and it’s a 10-year deal.”
Goding said the board loses the respect of taxpayers when it doesn’t do the right thing, especially in financial situations.
OPS ran Yates and provided job-training classes for refugee and immigrant adults. Citing the building’s condition, OPS officials announced in October 2019 that the programs offered there would be moved to another location.
Bridget Blevins, a district spokeswoman, said renovations are underway at the Teacher Administrative Center at 30th and Cuming Streets for a new space, including a welcome center and community room.