District May Lower Rent for Columbia School Site

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Torrance school officials may slash the proposed yearly rent by $70,000 and offer a lease of up to 99 years to attract a tenant for the former Columbia School.

The revised plan, which calls for a minimum first-year rent of $310,000, will go to the Torrance Unified School District board on Monday for approval.

The plan reflects the board's frustration with the failure to find a tenant for the 4.95-acre site, which has been vacant since the school closed two years ago. Two weeks ago, the board voted 3 to 2 to delay a plan to sell the site, instead ordering administrators to continue searching for a tenant.

Board member John Eubanks, who supports leasing, said he is not sure the proposed rent is low enough.

"I have some reservations whether that's yet at the market level. But, who knows?" Eubanks said. He said he wonders whether the board should leave open the option of leasing the land in two pieces, in case a tenant might be interested in a two- or a three-acre portion.

"These things are all flexible. We're moving in the right direction," Eubanks said. "I may push to loosen (the terms) up a little more."

The old Columbia School, at 4502 186th St. in northwest Torrance, was closed in June, 1988. It is one of 15 schools the district has closed since 1969 because of declining enrollment.

After the school closed, the district spent more than a year studying ways to use the site. In January, the district invited the city Redevelopment Agency to consider joint development of senior-citizen housing at the site. The city responded with an offer to buy part of the land for senior housing, but the district rejected the offer because it did not want to divide the property. The district then launched its search for a tenant.

The site was appraised at $3.1 million several years ago, according to district Supt. Edward Richardson. The site is zoned for public use, but the Torrance City Council last Tuesday began the process of changing it to a medium-density residential classification. Senior housing or community uses could also be allowed, the council stipulated. The rezoning process can take five or six months to complete.

The new leasing plan would allow a tenant to demolish the school buildings on the site, according to a proposed resolution the school board will consider Monday. The tenant would have to pay the costs of demolishing or repairing the buildings. Bids from prospective tenants would be opened Sept. 4.

The board first set a June 4 deadline for bids. When no one responded, school officials prepared to sell the property for a minimum price of $3.5 million. But in an unexpected turn of events June 18, Eubanks and board member Ann P. Gallagher lobbied successfully to continue searching for a tenant.

Leasing has advantages for the district, since revenue from rent can be used for a variety of school needs, including salaries. State law requires that profits from the sale of school lands be used only for capital improvements.

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