Tuesday, June 22, 2021

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Graham, NC 27253
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ABSS looking to rent former BB&T branch building in Graham

Alamance-Burlington school board members are being asked to consider renting the former BB&T branch building at 220 South Main Street in Graham – with an option to buy it for $2,050,000 – to provide offices for employees who are currently based at the Sellars-Gunn Education Center in Burlington.

The former BB&T branch in Graham closed last fall, following the completion of its merger with SunTrust, and has been vacant since. The SunTrust branch at 236 South Main Street in Graham, next door to the former BB&T location, subsequently became one of the first consolidated branches for the successor to the merger, Truist.

ABSS officials said Tuesday that they would like to move employee offices from Sellars-Gunn to the former bank branch at 220 South Main Street. Sellars-Gunn is currently used as office space for the student services division for ABSS, as well as some services for homeless students that are provided under the federal McKinney-Vento program. Sellars-Gunn previously housed the alternative school for ABSS, which was relocated to Ray Street Academy in Graham in 2012.

School board chairman Allison Gant said Tuesday that there had been some discussion about “purchasing this property to move many of our employees out of Sellars-Gunn.”
The Alamance News could find no record of any specific proposals that have been publicly presented to school board members, aside from a request that school board members approved in late September 2014 to let Alamance Community College use part of the space for small-engine repair classes.

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School board member Ryan Bowden questioned the seeming last-minute addition of a draft lease agreement to the board’s meeting agenda for Tuesday afternoon. “I don’t know when my other colleagues [saw] it, but I saw it had been placed on the agenda this morning, so I have some concerns there.”

“We are not asking the board to vote this afternoon, but we felt it was important to at least get this out in a public forum,” given the amount of money that ABSS could ultimately spend to renovate property that the school system doesn’t own, ABSS superintendent Dr. Bruce Benson explained.

It would cost between $1,029,360 and $1,072,026 (for an approximate cost of $93.58 per square foot) to renovate the former bank building, based on estimates that ABSS assistant superintendent Todd Thorpe presented Tuesday, which were developed by Palacio Collaborative, a cost-estimating firm that has an office in Durham.

The estimated costs to renovate the former bank at 220 South Main Street in Graham include:
· Interior demolition of flooring, ceilings, walls, wall coverings, casework, doors, an HVAC air handling unit, plumbing fixtures, and electrical work;
· Installation of new exterior windows, interior doors, cabinets, partitions, wainscoting, drywall, ceramic flooring, carpeting, and luxury vinyl tile;
· New electrical panels and outlets; new plumbing and fire protection;
· A new HVAC air handling unit, ductwork, temperature controls, and related components;
· New wireless phone and internet systems;
· New fire alarm systems;
· And new security cameras and card readers that would be “roughed in,” meaning lines or fiber optic would be laid out but not connected.

Among the other potential costs outlined in the estimate that Palacio developed for ABSS are furnishings and blinds ($152,275), based on the figures that were presented to the school board Tuesday afternoon.

Property in prime location offered for sale to ABSS at below tax value
The former BB&T branch in Graham is owned by California-based Casa Marin, LLC, which has presented ABSS with two possible options to lease the property. Casa Marin is being represented by Robert M. Lewis, a broker in Burlington who is with the NAI Piedmont Triad commercial real estate firm. Casa Marin is offering to sell the former bank property at 220 South Main Street in Graham for $2,050,000, based on a draft of the lease agreement that was presented to school board members Tuesday afternoon.

School board member Sandy Ellington-Graves pointed out Tuesday afternoon that the estimated cost to renovate the former bank is nearly half of the purchase price. NAI is currently advertising the former bank property in Graham for sale on its website at $2,250,000. The school system would receive a credit of $1,833 for each month of rent that would go toward the sales price, should ABSS officials decide to exercise the option to purchase.

“The land itself has a very high value because of where it’s located,” Thorpe told school board members Tuesday afternoon. The improvements that ABSS would make to the building would “definitely enhance the value of this property,” he added.

The latest assessed value for the property is $2.1 million, according to Alamance County’s tax department. The property consists of an 11,104-square foot bank that was built in 1984 and sits on 2.57 acres, according to county tax records.

By comparison, the latest assessed value for the Sellars-Gunn Education Center is $5.5 million, according to Alamance County tax records. Tax records list the building size at approximately 69,356 square feet, which is situated on 11.11 acres. ABSS records list the year of construction as 1931; tax records are unclear about when Sellars-Gunn was built.

“It would be fantastic to purchase a piece of property within the city of Graham,” school board member Patsy Simpson said Tuesday. But she also questioned why the proposal hadn’t been presented first to a technical review committee (TRC) comprised of ABSS, Alamance Community College, and county government officials, as well as board members, who are responsible for evaluating future capital projects and ranking them according to need. (Simpson represents the school board on the TRC.)

“Are we putting the cart before the horse, since this has not come before the committee that I’m on and you are on?” Simpson asked Thorpe. She also asked whether ABSS has looked into any other properties that might be available, such as the old Western Electric plant along Graham-Hopedale Road in east Burlington.

The total annual cost to lease the property would be $156,800.04 for the first year of the contract, payable in monthly installments of $13,066.67 that would be due before the first day of each month.

The total annual cost to lease the property would increase by 2 percent during the second year of the contract term would be $159,936.04, payable in monthly installments of $13,328.00 that would be due “in advance of” the first day of each month, based on a draft of the lease agreement that was presented to school board members Tuesday afternoon.

The proposed lease agreement also calls for ABSS to provide a $13,066.67 security deposit to Casa Marin, LLC.

ABSS would be required to pay for all monthly utilities, landscaping, HVAC maintenance, and other costs incidental to the operation of the building, such as sprinklers and pest control, under the terms outlined in the draft lease agreement. The school system would be required to carry general commercial liability insurance, as well as a minimum of $1 million in coverage, per occurrence, and fire and “special perils” insurance, according to the draft lease.

Casa Marin would continue to pay annual property taxes on the former bank property in Graham. In 2020, the county tax bill totaled $14,149.33, according to Alamance County’s tax department; its city tax bill for 2020 was not immediately available by press time.

The lease would have a term of two years, running from June 1, 2021 (as stated on the draft lease agreement) until May 31, 2023, with no option for renewal.

“Going back to Sellars-Gunn, we’ve had no discussion of that,” Bowden said, adding, “a few years back we had a new roof [put on].”

Gant interjected, telling Thorpe to “go back to the technical oversight [committee]” and her fellow school board members to submit their questions and/or concerns to the superintendent, in the meantime.

The TRC last met on May 25; its next meeting is scheduled for June 29, according to the county’s capital projects website.

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