“The city has some questions about their right, if any, about the property,” attorney Bill Weathington said.
The commission agreed to sell the former DHR property to the Pell City Board of Education for $125,000, pending review by the county attorney.
“Right now, we are trying to work through the legal issues,” Weathington said.
Mayor Joe Funderburg said the city is not trying to block the sale of the DHR building to the school board, but city officials are protecting the interests of its citizens.
The city council and school board discussed a possible joint-ownership of the CenturyLink building, but school board officials said the city eventually only offered a long-term lease agreement to the BOE, not a part ownership proposition.
That’s when Superintendent Michael Barber formally asked the county commission to sell the former DHR building to the BOE.
“We do feel like the city may have some interest in the property,” Funderburg said.
He said he believes the city is part owner of the hospital property, which includes the DHR building, or at least that is what he believes was the intent of an agreement between the county and city.
He said the county commission negotiated the sale of the former DHR building without the city, and while the city was trying to negotiate with the BOE about a possible venture connected with the purchase of the CenturyLink building.
The city council approved borrowing $1.23 million for the purchase and renovation of the CenturyLink building, although a sales contract is not finalized.
Barber said the BOE wanted part ownership, not to lease space in the CenturyLink building, so the BOE opted to acquire the DHR building from the commission.
The DHR building has remained vacant since 2009 after an arsonist set fire to one wing of the facility.
“I would still like to see the BOE in the CenturyLink building,” Funderburg said.
While Funderburg questions whether the commission can sell the DHR building to the BOE without city approval, commission Chairman Stan Batemon said the city does not own and has never been part owners with any of the old hospital property, including the former DHR building.
Batemon said the St. Clair County Healthcare Authority needed an additional $4 million to complete the construction of the St. Vincent’s St. Clair Hospital. He said initially the commission and Pell City were going to jointly secure the $4 million loan and in turn become equal partners or owners of the old hospital property.
Batemon said Pell City officials did not want to incur more long-term debt so the initial plan fell through.
He said the city could not become equal owners or partners of the hospital property unless the city was willing to incur half of the $4 million debt.
He said eventually city officials agreed to pay $100,000 or half of the annual loan payment, whichever was greater, of the interest on the $4 million loan.
“The city was never part owners of the old hospital property,” Batemon said.
He said city officials at the time only agreed to pay the interest on the loan until the old hospital property was sold.
Batemon said the city had not put any funds toward the construction of the hospital, with the exception of actual road work that had to be redone by a contractor, so this was a way the city contributed funds for the multimillion dollar project.
“They don’t own any of it (the old hospital property),” he said.
Batemon said the city currently has a new mayor, council and city attorney who were not involved in the original negotiations of the $4 million loan and possible ownership of the old hospital property on Dr. John Haynes Drive.
Batemon also said the DHR building was never connected to those negotiations.
“DHR was still paying a lease on the building,” Batemon said. “How could that be part of the agreement?”
He said city officials did approach the commission about the purchase of the old hospital property and former DHR building in February. City officials considered using the former DHR building for a library and the old hospital property for a wellness center, but that plan fell through.
Batemon said the city could still purchase the property, but would have to assume the $4 million interest-only loan.
Batemon said the city would only have to pay an additional $22,000 a year to become owners of the old hospital property and DHR building, since the city is already paying the interest on the $4 million loan.
He said a letter was sent informing officials the city has until Oct. 21 to purchase the property or the County Commission will move forward with the sale of the former DHR building to the BOE.
Batemon said at next week’s County Commission meeting, the commission is expected to authorize the county attorney to acquire the necessary documents to set a closing date for the sale for Oct. 22.
Barber said he is optimistic that the BOE would soon become owners of the building, and he hopes school officials will move into the building by spring of next year.
The BOE currently has a lease agreement with CenturyLink, which ends March 2014.
Barber said the DHR facility is ideal for a central office.
“This building purchase would allow the school system an opportunity to accomplish several goals,” he said. “The first being increasing the overall efficiency of the system by bringing services located outside of the central office back under one roof.”
Barber said the technology and nursing departments are currently housed away from the central office.
“The former DHR site would allow those services the space they need,” he said. The building would also accommodate future needs brought on by system growth.”
Barber said the new site would also allow the system to own a location where board meetings, teacher trainings, business and industry recruiting, and many other functions of a school system can occur.
“I see the building purchase as a win for everyone,” Barber said. “Taking a building that has sat damaged and vacant for several years and turning it into an investment for the educational needs of children says a great deal about one’s community. I have no doubt the Pell City School System can turn the former DHR building into a place the community can enjoy with pride.”
Contact David Atchison at firstname.lastname@example.org.