School board approves Higdon property lease
After months of back and forth, the Macon County School Board has approved a lease agreement for the Higdon property, purchased by the county earlier this year for use by the school system.
“We’re in a position now where the county is offering the Higdon property to us on a lease,” said School Board Chairman Jim Breedlove.
Last month, school board members saw an initial draft of the Higdon property lease, after the county had closed on the property. Earlier this summer, the Macon County Board of Commissioners and the Board of Education signed an interlocal agreement to ensure the property would be available for use by the school system.
“This lease puts that property into your hands for your immediate use,” said Board of Education Attorney John Henning. “You have what we call quiet enjoyment, everyday use of that property.”
According to the lease, the school board will be able to use the property and run it as its own for a period of 40 years.
“You do have immediate need of it for things like the agricultural program that’s going to get displaced by the first phase of work at the high school in the area around the football stadium,” said Henning. “It may lend itself to lots and lots of other uses as we go on. The school system will continue to appreciate that partnership with the county to let you have the use of that property that they’ve purchased.”
Henning suggested one change to the lease to remove the possibility of undue financial requirements from the school system for use of the property. Normally, in a lease like this between the county and the school system, the school system is responsible for all systems and upkeep of a property. Because school boards cannot legally borrow money, they regularly give school property to county governments when financing school construction or renovation.
“We use this type of language for leases because it normally is yours to keep and operate, you’ve already been doing that, it’s in your budget, you’ve already figured out how to keep that school running,” said Henning. “This one’s different because the building does not immediately lend itself to use for public school purposes. It’s just not set up for ADA accessibility, energy conservation, electrical, a whole bunch of different things that are expected of a school building.”
Henning altered the lease to ensure that even though the school has not had the chance to budget for repair and renovation of the property and does not have the means to do so right now, it will not be in breach of the lease per its terms of upkeep. The county commission did not fund the entirety of the school system’s budget request this budget cycle and the school system has limited funds available..
“What I have added and what we need to propose back to the county is, it’s understood and agreed that the board also doesn’t have the financial means to provide maintenance or repair of the building or regular mowing and landscaping the grounds surrounding the structure. We’re sort of saying it hasn’t been in your plans to have this property and take care of it,” Henning said.
He suggested that the board have a conversation with the county government about how to pay for repairs and renovation to the property that will make it ready for educational uses.
“ I think if we don’t address that, theoretically you’re in violation of the lease, somebody could argue, if there’s some maintenance that doesn’t happen on this property,” said Henning.
The school board will be able to quit the lease at any time if needed and hand the land back over to the county. However, for the school board to be able to plan for the property effectively, the county cannot quit the lease at any time — unless there is a clear breach of the agreement — and is committed to allowing the school system to use the property for 40 years.
“It’s just a matter of, we have to protect ourselves, the county is extending a good opportunity to us, but we have to look out for ourselves, protect ourselves as best we can. I think John [Henning] has managed to do that,” said Breedlove.
The school system has outlined plans to use the property for the expansion of its Career and Technical Education program.
Henning suggested that the board approve the lease with the provision that the board chairman, superintendent and board attorney can further refine the lease and accept it on the board’s behalf. The board approved the lease with the provision unanimously.