The Bulloch County Board of Education recently sold the old Sallie Zetterower Elementary School on East Jones Avenue at Gentilly Road for $1 million to private investors. The campus is being discussed as a possible home for the new Statesboro YMCA, but the organization was not the buyer.
Earlier this year, the board authorized Chairman Mike Herndon and Superintendent of Schools Charles Wilson to negotiate final terms for sale of the property. They signed a deed June 23 transferring the land and buildings to a limited liability company called South Main PTP, which received a two-thirds interest, and John E. Lavender, who received a one-third interest.
Exactly $1 million was the price, Wilson confirmed.
“We paid a 5 percent commission, so we netted $950,000 for the school district,” he said.
Todd Manack, owner and broker of Manack Signature Properties, which marketed the building for the school board, said his firm split the $50,000 commission with Caldwell Banker Tanner Realty, which served as a broker representing the buyer.
The school system has put the old campus, measuring between eight and nine acres and including about 55,000 square feet of buildings, on the market with Manack beginning in the fall of 2013. It originally listed for $1.6 million.
Early interest in buying the property came from a retailer, which would have “raked” the land of the existing buildings and built from the ground up, Manack said. That offer didn’t work out.
“But then the YMCA comes along, and what a great use of that property,” he said, confirming that he understood this to be the buyers’ intention.
The prospect reminded Manack of the offer that made part of the former Bulloch Memorial Hospital site the home of Ogeechee Area Hospice, easing neighborhood concerns about what might be built there.
“I feel the same about this, that this is really a great kind of a compromise use,” Manack said. “Any user other than a philanthropic or a church would have had to have the zoning changed to have done whatever they envisioned, and that would have been a well-vetted process that could have been tenuous. So I feel like this was a win-win for everybody.”
Wilson also heard that the buyers’ purpose had to do with building a YMCA, he said, but he noted that they are not the YMCA.
“From what it sounds like it’s going to a responsible, community project, and we got to liquidate a nonperforming asset for a reasonable price,” Wilson said.
Y still forming
Founded more than 170 years ago, the YMCA has affiliates in many countries. It’s still officially the Young Men’s Christian Association, but is often called simply the Y. Many chapters offer recreational and social programs people of all ages, including women and girls and well as men and boys.
Local people interested in bringing the Y to Statesboro worked with the Savannah-based YMCA of Coastal Georgia to conduct a survey last year that showed support from area residents and gauged interest in various types of programs the nonprofit association might provide.
The Statesboro YMCA held its organizational meeting in November. When the steering committee met most recently, June 3, potential sites were discussed, said the committee’s chairman, lawyer Bob Mikell. Identifying a site, he said, has been the priority, before a campaign to raise money for construction.
“Once we get a property, we’ll start the founders’ campaign, but that has been proving to be the challenge, finding a good property,” Mikell said.
He talked about the kinds of things the YMCA might include in its center, with the old school being one possible location, but referred questions about the site to Nick Propps.
Propps, who owns the real estate firm Statesboro Properties, is also a YMCA committee member and has taken the lead in efforts to acquire a location. The organization will probably lease, rather than buy, he said, but is open to owning or leasing.
The old Sallie Zetterower campus is the group’s “first preference” and “at least one of the highly probable locations,” Propps said. What could be developed there, through renovation or new construction, would depend on the generosity of donors, he said.
“We’re looking at a couple of different approaches to properties, and what we set up could change,” Propps said. “We are looking at the Sallie Z. property, and we hope to be able to work out something on that. Once we do, we’ll analyze the budget and figure out what we can do, and it is also heavily dependent on the founders’ campaign and how much the community supports.”
At its June meeting, the YMCA Steering Committee also looked at conceptual drawings for a facility, including some specific to the Sallie Zetterower site. Although Y facilities sometimes include swimming pools, a pool is not a part of the options being considered here. The main focus of the planning is on creating a fitness center, along with areas for child care, other programs for children, and programs for senior citizens, Mikell said.
“We’ve got incredible feedback about a desire for more senior fitness, and some of the plans are pretty neat,” he said. “They have intergenerational lobbies where the younger people can socialize with each other, but also the older generation too.”
Both Propps and Mikell mentioned the gym at the old school as being in relatively good shape. Propps noted that an octagonal building, near the gym, is also newer than the classroom wing, making these areas of interest for possible renovation.
New owners quiet
This is a situation where the hopes of one potential tenant, the YMCA, are better known than the intentions of new owners. After the newspaper called Lavender’s building and contracting firm, someone there relayed a message that he wasn’t ready to talk about the property.
Local attorney Dan Taulbee, registered corporate agent for South Main PTP, said he would have to ask his clients whether they want to be identified. Meanwhile, a real estate agent with Caldwell Banker Tanner Realty said he is subject to a confidentiality agreement.
Last September, representatives of the Boys & Girls Club of Bulloch County, which also has hopes for a new facility, expressed interest in the old school, but in terms of being given use of it or leasing it from the school board rather than buying it.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.