sanger ave

Only the entrance arch remains at the old Sanger School property in North Waco.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte

The city of Waco is conducting an environmental cleanup study as it prepares for a third round of soliciting proposals for the Sanger Avenue Elementary School.

At issue is the charred debris of the former school building, which was pushed into the basement a few years after the school burned in 2008.

The unknown cost of cleaning up that debris has been a stumbling block for years as the city has tried to get developers interested in redeveloping the 3.2-acre site in the 1700 block of Sanger Ave. The most recent request for proposals process this year drew lots of interest but only one proposal, which was rejected.

“The previous time we put it out to bid, we had quite a few people who attended the pre-bid meeting but didn’t submit bids,” said Assistant City Manager Bradley Ford. “My understanding is that the potential concern of construction debris in that basement kept them from submitting.”

The city has hired Smith Inland Environmental Services for $14,855 to assess the debris and the potential cost of cleaning it up. Ford said a draft report should be available in a couple of weeks, with a final report next spring.

He said the city hasn’t decided whether it would pay to remove the debris, but just having a cost for the cleanup removes uncertainty.

“Folks are interested in the property, but is that a $50,000 cost or $200,000 cost?” he said. “When you’re dealing with an inner city, developers need to understand the risk.”

Ford said he expects a new request for proposal process in the coming year.

Mike Stone, executive director of Waco Community Development Corp., agreed that knowing cleanup costs is crucial.

Waco CDC, a nonprofit housing developer that has built dozens of homes in the neighborhood, made an offer in 2012 to redevelop the property as a $3.4 million subdivision with up to 25 homes. But it declined to make an offer in the city’s process earlier this year because of the uncertainties about the basement.

“We’re still very interested in it,” Stone said. “We think it’s a great location for single-family homes. … The main thing is the infrastructure costs. The basement of the old school is a major hurdle. That’s what scared off most of us. … It’s very exciting that the city is going to take some action to clear up the land so it’s more buildable.”

Stone said he’d like to see a mix of housing types and price points on the property, possibly including some smaller cottages and townhouses.

“It would be a mix,” he said. “That’s the model we’ve been doing, a little bit of every thing. We would like it to be integrated and be part of the neighborhood.”

The sole proposal from the city’s process this year was for an indoor soccer facility, but city officials rejected the bid, saying it was not compatible with the historic Sanger Heights neighborhood surrounding it.

All that remains of the school is an arched masonry entryway that bears the name of the school. City officials have encouraged bidders in the past to incorporate the arch into their development and to preserve a large live oak tree on the corner.

The school, which was active from 1904 to 1974, fell victim to arson in late 2008. The city ultimately paid for its demolition and seized the property through a lien for demolition and legal fees.

J.B. Smith is the the Tribune-Herald managing editor. A native of Sulphur Springs, he attended Southwestern University and joined the Tribune-Herald in 1997. He and his wife, Bethany, live in Waco and have two children.

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