Manassas City Public Schools is abandoning a tentative plan to renovate and move its central office staff into the current Manassas police headquarters once the new Grant Avenue police headquarters building is complete.
Instead, the School Board and staff have agreed to purchase the commercial building it’s currently in, with long-term plans to use more space in the building for career and technical education instruction.
The purchase of 8700 Centreville Road for $10.75 million still needs final approval from the City Council in the form of a change in its budgeted appropriation to the school division. But Andy Hawkins, the school system’s finance director, repeatedly told the School Board and the public last week that the new plan wouldn’t require any additional funding from the City Council or any tax increase. Instead, the funding for the purchase is already in school division coffers, much of it appropriated for the police station renovation through the five-year capital improvement program.
The school system’s current lease for its central office expires next year. Before the pandemic, administration had anticipated spending about $25 per square foot to renovate the existing police headquarters at 9518 Fairview Ave. once the new police facility is complete later this year. Then, the school system would enter into a 10-year lease with the city to use the property for its central office staff, which the school system says has outgrown the current space on Centreville Road.
But since that plan was hatched, two key things have changed, Hawkins said. First, the expected price to renovate the police building has risen with supply change and labor disruptions from the pandemic. Secondly, the four-story commercial building on Centreville – larger than the police building – became available for purchase at a lower price than the school system’s latest projections for the renovation.
School officials used several estimates to project that renovating the police building would cost about $489.69 per square foot for a total cost of $11.1 million. Purchasing the Centreville Road property, on the other hand, would cost a total of $10.75 million, or $169.69 per square foot, and come with more available space.
“We were pursuing the idea of renovating the police station until we also found out that we could have a building that’s twice the size of the police station, that generates revenue that we would own and that would provide additional instructional opportunities for our students,” Hawkins told the School Board last week. “And it would save money for the school division and for our citizens.”
Last sold in 2013 to a Fairfax-based limited liability company for $10.25 million, the Centreville Road building was most recently assessed at a value of just $5,049,400, likely a reflection of the struggling post-pandemic commercial real estate market. The 54,654 square-foot building has about 8,900 square feet of unrented space and 6,100 square feet of unused storage space that the school system can use while maintaining the revenue from the building’s current tenants.
At the Aug. 9 School Board meeting, officials also laid out what could be in the works for some of the building’s unused space, which includes some vacant ground-floor retail space.
The latest school system budget includes funding for expanded pre-professional education in fields like culinary arts and cosmetology, and the retail space could be used for hands-on CTE training.
“We are looking at a pathway for our students to potentially go into culinary arts,” said Craig Gfeller, director of student achievement. “We are looking at potentially opening a cafe for our students at our current location. We also have an opportunity to expand our cosmetology program and are also looking at an alternative education program, and the current site will allow us to be able to do that.”
The Manassas City Police Department expects its new $49 million Public Safety Facility on Grant Avenue to be completed this winter. Approved in 2020, the new building will house police headquarters and leave the current Fairview Avenue space vacant.
With the school division backing out of its plan to lease the space, Deputy City Manager Bryan Foster told InsideNoVa the city hasn’t developed plans for what to do with the property.
“We don’t currently have anything else at this moment. We’ll still evaluate and see what the best use for that facility will be, but we don’t have anything definitive yet,” Foster said.
The School Board’s resolution to approve the purchase of 8700 Centreville Road passed unanimously.
“The purchase benefits students and it benefits citizens. The purchase of 8700 Centreville Road allows for adoptions for growth; it also allows for flexibility and possible opportunities for revenue,” School Board Chair Suzanne Seaberg said. “The purchase is a fiscally responsible action for our city and for our taxpayers, and I personally will be voting in favor of this purchase because it’s the most responsible thing to do.”