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J'ville school plans unrealistic

The city can't afford it and another buyer might not be able to develop it

We can understand the reluctance of the Jacksonville City Council to consider spending &

36;5 million to purchase the old Jacksonville School grounds. As much as it's a tempting historical site in a historical town, the city seems to be in no position financially to pull it off.

The City Council on Friday announced that it would not meet the &

36;5 million price asked by the current owners, who operate the private Cascade Christian High School in the building. The city has considered buying the property for use as city offices.

City officials say they countered Cascade Christian's asking price with a lower, undisclosed offer, but the counter was rejected and the school would not cut its price.

That announcement was met with groans by some and anger by others. Some of that anger has been directed toward Cascade Christian and some toward the city ' and in both cases we think it's misplaced.

Cascade Christian is planning to build a new &

36;14 million school complex in Medford. Some of that is already in hand and some will be donated, but the private Christian school remains millions of dollars away from covering all its costs. School officials are hardly likely to accept less than they think they can get and then ask their own supporters and families to make up the difference.

The city in recent years has had difficulty funding its fire department when citizens opposed a surcharge. Residents did ultimately approve a fire levy, but would they be willing to pay the cost of a &

36;5 million ' or more ' bond? There's certainly no guarantee.

— The cost of purchasing the 7.6 acres of property and its buildings would clearly be much more than the &

36;5 million. The century-old school would require a considerable investment to make it suitable for offices and to meet code requirements. It's probably reasonable to assume the work on the buildings would at a minimum double the overall cost.

The emotions attached to the site have less to do with residents' desire for new city offices and more to do with a desire to preserve a historical site. It's a commendable goal, but reality makes it an unlikely outcome.

But neither is the outcome predetermined to be a subdivision of McMansions. The school is a historical building and the entire property is zoned for special protection. Both of those factors may give would-be developers pause. They would almost certainly have a fight on their hands if their plans diminished the historical value of the property.

So what's the answer? The city can't afford it and potential buyers may not be able to develop it. Perhaps the city and the school should consider a partnership that allows both to accomplish their objectives.

Perhaps there's a deal to be made that saves the principal building for public use and allows development on the periphery. That might not be palatable to everyone, but the other options seem equally troubled.