School continues its educational Heritage in West Allis

Facility returns to district ownership with much-needed space

One of two full-size gyms came with the purchase of the former Heritage Christian School by the West Allis-West Milwaukee School District.

One of two full-size gyms came with the purchase of the former Heritage Christian School by the West Allis-West Milwaukee School District.

Dec. 10, 2013

West Allis — When it comes to bargain hunting, it would be hard to beat the West Allis-West Milwaukee School District, which bought an entire school — with two top-flight gyms, science and computer labs and 40 classrooms — for what would hardly build a school addition.

It's the former Heritage Christian School, 1300 S. 109th St., which the district bought for nearly $1.9 million in a foreclosure deal to help relieve crowding at its east-side schools.

Because of the foreclosure proceedings, everything was left pretty much as it was when students left on their last day in June 2011, including fully furnished classrooms.

"All the computer labs are still there and fully operational," said Brian Vissers, district communications director, who also noted that the science labs are modern and the cafeteria is a good size.

Though Heritage used the facility for almost a quarter century, it was originally a district facility. Constructed in 1921, it first served as Lane Elementary School. In 1960, the building was remodeled as a junior high school.

The district sold the property in 1987 for $700,000 to Heritage.

Getting a bargain

Despite its long history and age, the school certainly isn't an outdated facility, given that Heritage did a $9 million expansion in 2006.

WAWM district officials said the building was worth more than $5 million. The district had hoped to buy the closed school a few years ago, but didn't want to pay the asking price, which ranged from $3.5 to $5 million, Vissers said.

Then recently, Superintendent Kurt Wachholz found the price had come down.

"We got an offer in and things went from there," Vissers said.

School Board President Pat Kerhin paid tribute to the superintendent for some heads-up bargain hunting.

"Kurt, being a lifelong resident of West Allis and a product of the district, ... has the pulse of the community that few superintendents have," Kerhin said. "He watches for things like this."

Moving in

Now the district is taking steps to occupy the Heritage facility.

School officials are in the final stages of obtaining city approval to get the school back into regular service. No one opposed the district's plan when a public hearing was held last week before the West Allis Common Council, and the council's Safety and Development Committee was expected to recommend approval of a special-use permit Wednesday. A council vote will follow at a later date.

To determine how the school would best be used to relieve overcrowding, the district will form an ad hoc committee of staff and citizens, Kerhin said.

There is a lot of congestion at the elementary level, she said, but the schools really need space at the intermediate schools. So, one option among many on the table is moving Lincoln Intermediate School to Heritage and again making Lincoln Intermediate an elementary school, Kerhin said.

Heritage is larger than Lincoln, Vissers said.

Other options on the table include having kindergarten through eighth grade there, creating cluster centers for kindergarten for 4-year-olds with all-day programs and before- and after-school care, starting a kindergarten for 3-year-olds, creating a permanent home for the district's Shared Journeys School, weighing charter school opportunities for secondary students and studying a year-round school concept.

School officials would like to open the new school next fall That might be a little soon, Kerhin said, but it certainly will happen in the next year or two.

Recreation programs could start being held at the school as early as January, Kerhin added.

Payment in full

The district funded the purchase with more than $1.2 million from renting out district facilities over the last three years.

The remaining $675,000 came from available budget resources as well as beneficiary trust proceeds from a donor. There was no impact on the tax levy.

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