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City plans housing for McKinley property
March 09, 2012 Jerry Purvis   

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Photo by Jerry Purvis/Gering Citizen
The McKinley School, built in the early 1920s, was owned by the Gering Public Schools until it was sold to a private party in 1998.

With assistance from the Nebraska Affordable Housing Program, the City of Gering might have a solution for the former McKinley Elementary School, built in the early 1920s.

Rick Willis, marketing and research manager for Twin Cities Development, told city council members Gering might qualify for $665,000 in funding from the program to demolish the dilapidated building to make room for single family and duplex housing.

The McKinley building, which sits on an entire city block, was closed by the school system in 1996. The district held onto the property until 1998, when it was sold to a private party. Since then, the building has been used as a warehouse for junk and acquired auction items. Several years ago, neighbors complained that a “fight club” was operating in the gymnasium.

Several city department heads have inspected the building and determined it beyond rehabilitation.

The city earlier tried to use some of its federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program funding to demolish the building. However, a question arose over whether federal funding could be used because a state historical organization had deemed the building historic.

“We discovered that McKinley couldn’t be demolished by the city because it wasn’t eligible for a grant,” Willis said. “However, a private person can demolish the building. The owner has indicated he would demolish the building and sell the property to the city.”

Of course, the sale would be contingent upon an approval of funding.
The city’s grant request would provide funding to develop four homes for sale to families at or below 100 percent of the average median income. Their goal is to keep the price of the homes in the $115,000 range and to assist purchasers with about $2,500 for closing costs.

The grant application, which must be submitted by May 4, will be prepared by the city with help from Western Nebraska Housing Opportunities.

The initial funding would amount to $430,000 for Gering to begin the first phase in developing the block with four homes and/or duplexes. Eventually, the city block could house 10 – 12 homes, depending on size.

According to local realtors, the housing market in extremely tight and there are a historic low number of homes available for sale. Gering’s plan would develop affordable homes to meet that need.

The city also plans to work with private contractors, developers, the high school construction program and other interested parties to develop the lots.

Willis told the council no investment was required at this time, and that the application was only the first step in getting the ball rolling.

Council members unanimously approved applying for the grant funding.
Gering isn’t the only city struggling with low housing inventories due to the depressed economy. Last week, Scottsbluff City Manager Rick Kuckkahn met with several local developers and contractors to discuss how they can streamline the building process. They addresses items such as utility hookup fees, sewer connection fees, affordable housing standards and whether to implement a fire sprinkler code for residential housing.
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