After seeing two suitors for its 13,900-square-foot North State Street Professional Building fall through, Kirby Medical Center has a third, this time a private school.
Monticello Christian Academy is negotiating for the purchase of the property at 1109 N. State St., located next to the county-owned Piatt County Office Building and nursing home.
The Monticello planning and zoning board on July 20 approved a conditional use permit to allow for the school to operate in an area zoned urban residential. The request was given final approval by the city council on July 27.
MCA school administrator Amber Warmbier said the move from its currently location at 225 E. Livingston Street would give the school about 4,000 more square feet to work with.
“We are excited by the extra square footage we would gain by moving the school to this building, and the additional opportunities to serve our community that we would be given in this process,” said Warmbier.
The school currently offers preschool, pre-kindergarten and kindergarten programs for an average of 45 students per year. In addition, 50 students take part in before- and after-school programs that serve preschool through fifth graders. Warmbier said the added space may allow the school to add grade levels, and hopes the academy will be operational in the new location by January of 2021.
About 18 staff work for the school and before- and after-school programs.
“We are in negotiations with Kirby Medical Center to purchase this building,” said Tara Grabarczyk, the attorney for MCA, noting her feeling that it would not impact property values of the area, and that parking and traffic flow would not be an issue.
“Children will be dropped off and picked up in front of the building, so there will be no traffic jams along State Street,” she added.
The property comes with 23 parking places dedicated to the building, along with 61 non-exclusive spaces shared by the county.
The Piatt County board was first approached by Kirby late last year to purchase the property for $20,000, but initially voted down the purchase. That vote was reversed at a future meeting, but only after Kirby had rescinded its offer.
County Board Chairman Ray Spencer sent an email that was read at the zoning meeting, one which pointed out concerns of traffic, parking and student safety should MCA purchase the professional building.
“The county has concerns about liability issues if children use the green space areas as a playground and get hurt. Therefore, use of the grassy areas by the school would likely be prohibited,” said Spencer.
The deed includes only the footprint of the building and a 3-foot border around it. An easement allows for ingress/egress to the building and parking, said Kirby Medical Center CEO Steve Tenhouse. He added that, within the perpetual easement is language outlining the Professional Center owner’s shared maintenance responsibilities.
“My personal opinion is that the county is the logical owner of the Kirby office building, since the county already owns and maintains all the surrounding buildings, parking lots, and green space,” said Spencer.
By contrast, another county board member, Randy Shumard, felt that ship had sailed. The county deadlocked 3-3 on purchasing the building on Feb. 12, then voted 4-1 in favor of the buy 15 days later. By that time, however, Kirby had pulled its offer, and stated it would not reconsider unless it received joint communication of agreement from the county board and state’s attorney’s office.
Tenhouse confirmed the county was no longer in the running, and neither was the City of Monticello, which also considered purchasing it after the deal with the county fell through.
“Since then, we’ve been working with Monticello Christian Academy. We’ve been bargaining in good faith with them, and that’s our intent to move forward with that,” said Tenhouse.
He also did not think parking was a problem, since it was not an issue when 200 employees worked there when it was a hospital, in addition to Carle doctors and patients using the lot.
“While parking might have been tight, we never ran out of parking,” he added.
City Community Devel-opment Director Jo McFarland said the 23 dedicated parking spaces meet the zoning mandate of one space per 1,000 square feet of building size. That means 14 would meet zoning codes for the professional building.
Another county board member, Shannon Carroll, had similar concerns as Spencer.
“I would express some of the concerns I would have with the parking, maintenance, other aspects of playground-type activities,” said Carroll. “It sounds like there’s going to be further communication with the board on those areas of concern, so I just wanted to voice those concerns from my perspective on the county.”
When asked about outdoor recreation opportunities for students, Warmbier said that issue is still being worked out. One option would be for students to walk to the Forest Preserve Park for some activities.
Audience member Rachel LeJeune spoke in favor of MCA, saying it is a better option, especially considering the county’s financial difficulties.
“Right now the county is in dire straights,” she said. “I think to miss an opportunity that benefits Kirby, that benefits Monticello Christian Academy and benefits this neighborhood, I think it would be a crime to allow that to be stolen from the opinion of one person. I agree with that second letter (from Shumard) that that time has passed.”