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Oconomowoc Area School District hands over middle school keys

Jan. 30, 2013

Oconomowoc Area School District - At long last, the former Oconomowoc Middle School is on its way to a second life.

Some 16 months after the School District accepted an offer to purchase the property from Keystone Development, the sale has been completed, generating $1,050,000 for the district's coffers.

The Oshkosh firm plans to convert the building into affordable rental apartments, rehabbing it to offer loft-style apartments with featured amenities to middle-income residents earning between $20,000 and $45,000 annually.

The sale of the property was contingent on Keystone obtaining the necessary tax credit financing from Wisconsin Housing Economic Development Authority (WHEDA), which includes a waiting period where projects are evaluated for available tax credits.

Contacted Monday morning, School Board President Don Wiemer said the district would be signing paperwork to complete the transaction sometime that morning.

"It's great to finally have the middle school sold and to get the proceeds from the sale back in our fund balance.

Wiemer said that the firm's plans for the property will be an asset to the City of Oconomowoc.

"I think the new apartment complex will be a fantastic improvement for the community and helps the City of Oconomowoc by putting it back on the tax rolls," he said.

The renovated building will increase the tax base by an estimated $12 million, according to the School District.

City of Oconomowoc Administrator Diane Gard is also looking forward to the project.

"We believe this project is an excellent use of the middle school," she said.

"I have seen projects in other communities where they have taken older schools and converted them to apartments, and they have been very nice. It is great to be able to retain the character of these older buildings," Gard added.

The school was shuttered in 2008 after the community passed a $49.6 million building referendum two years earlier that included two intermediate schools, and additions at Oconomowoc High School of a performing arts center and field house.

The historic building, constructed in 1918 on 7.8 acres of land, was utilized both as the district's high school and as its middle school at different points in its long tenure.

However, the building continued to serve the district over the last four years as the site of a very successful annual fundraiser, Haunted High.

The Oconomowoc Public Education Foundation used the facility as the location for a fright fest, held each Halloween season, and earning approximately $100,000 per year to support grants intended to fund project, equipment or resource costs for the classroom that are not possible within normal school budget restrictions.

"This school has meant a lot to our community, especially our high school alums. It really has been a landmark," said District Superintendent Dr. Patricia Neudecker in a release issued by the district Tuesday afternoon.

"I am pleased that the repurposed building will benefit Oconomowoc while maintaining its historic presence," she added.

The Board President said that it has been a long process in seeing the sale of the building through to its conclusion, after a previous offer with a similar plan fell through when it failed to secure the proper financing.

"It's been over a year, working on issues and tax credits. It's been a long process," Wiemer said.

Assistant Superintendent of Business Services, Mike Barry, agrees.

"We have a set of documents to sign at the attorney's office and they have a set of documents to sign at their attorney's office. There's no meeting; it's kind of anti-climatic," he said the morning of the closing.

Funds from the sale will be placed in reserve.

"The money from the sale will be deposited into the fund balance until and unless there is a designation by the Board for a specific purpose," Barry explained.

Keystone Corporation expects to start construction soon on its project.

"Yes, it took longer than anticipated because of the tax credits and also because we were using historic tax credits and that a fairly long process," explained Cal Shultz of Keystone.

"We plan to start construction this week and be completed by the end of the year. Units will be available right after the first of the year.

"There will be 55 units - one, two and three bedrooms. The project will have a community room, exercise center media center and business center. It will have a number of amenities for residents," he added.

The school's former gymnasium will be used for covered parking for residents and the building will feature school accents in its design, including hallway clocks, revamped lockers and display cases.

"We are keeping the exterior intact, but are going back to the historic style windows. That's the only aesthetic change to the building," Shultz said.

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