South Bend Common Council OKs $7.8 million to buy, renovate downtown school HQ into new city hall
The South Bend Common Council approved a $7.8 million appropriation request Monday night to buy and renovate the downtown headquarters of the South Bend Community School Corporation into a new city hall.
The school corporation first proposed selling its downtown headquarters to South Bend in January as a way to cut costs and “right size” the district. Administrative staff would move into the Brown Community Learning Center on the city’s northwest side.
City Controller Dan Parker said $2.8 million will be used to buy the building — in line with a 2021 appraisal by the district — and $5 million will be used to fund renovation costs.
The district purchased the six-story building in 2004 for $608,000, and it underwent a $7.5 million renovation one year later.
Parker said it remains in good condition, but renovations are needed to redesign the interior to meet city needs and update the 17-year-old work — for example, replacing the building’s elevators.
Multiple council members called the deal a win-win situation, as it will give the city and county more office space and decrease costs for the school corporation.
“They haven’t just gone out and said ‘Yes, this is our mission to do this’ — no, they found an opportunity to collaborate with the schools,” Council Vice President Sheila Niezgodski said. “It gives us more space, more parking space, saves money, so for me I believe that is a good steward of looking at every opportunity with taxpayer money.”
Council member Troy Warner said the city had a separate city hall for much of its history, including before the move into the County-City Building in the 1970s.
“I think it's time to do it again," Warner said. "The building is cramped. If you've ever gone upstairs, they're sitting on top of each other and that's on the county's side and the city's side."
The administration building is about 63,000 square feet, which means the city will get about 13,000 more square feet of usable space when compared to its current offices in the County-City Building.
That means South Bend will be able to consolidate departments not currently located in the County-City Building under one roof and keep a dedicated chamber for Common Council meetings.
The city currently spends around $600,000 annually in maintenance costs for the County-City Building, as well as $58,000 in rent for the city’s utilities department at 2017 N. Main Street.
The administration building has an estimated annual operating cost of $400,000, which means the city will save about $270,000 each year.
It also has an attached city-owned parking garage, which Parker said will provide easier access for the public.
Under the deal, the city would gain 125 parking spaces currently leased to the school corporation for use by city staff. As for the public, parking is currently free for two hours in the garage.
The appropriation is covered by city cash reserves — Parker said no debt would be incurred in the transaction, and the city will make the cost back over the next 20 years in decreased operating expenses.
Next, the city’s board of public works and the school corporation must adopt identical resolutions authorizing the sale and laying out the final terms and conditions. Parker said those negotiations are ongoing.
The city has hired a consultant as part of the deal and plans to bring in its own architects to assess the building and determine what work is needed to its underlying structure, mechanical and electrical systems.
If you appreciate this kind of journalism on your local NPR station, please support it by donating here.