Business

New owners plan to lease Sangamon Elementary as office space

By FRED KRONER
fred@mahometnews.com

Friday marks a symbolic and historic first for the Mahomet-Seymour School District.

As school children from kindergartners through high school seniors start classes, one former school will officially enter into its new life.

The paperwork to complete the $750,000 sale of the Sangamon School Building and its 3.6-acre tract will be signed and — for the first time in 67 years — the portion of the building adjacent to Lombard Street will no longer be classrooms.

The transfer will be complete in a morning closing on Friday, Aug. 17, and Sangamon On Main will immediately start leasing portions of the property.

Darwyn Boston expects to be the first tenant to sign on Friday, securing the approximately 1,600-square foot section which had been the library.

A State Farm Insurance agent, Boston appreciates the chance to be part of the preservation of the facility.

“I’m glad we’re saving the school (from demolition),” Boston said. “As soon as I heard (about the sale), I immediately looked for space that was a fit for me. The location is perfect, near a developing intersection.

“I’m excited. I want to be a part of that.”

Boston, who plans to expand his staff, hopes to be open for business at the refurbished location on Nov. 1 and has scheduled an open house for Nov. 15.

He will have approximately double the workspace of what he currently has in his office at the corner of Main and Lincoln streets.

Jill Guth, a realtor and developer who represents the three co-owners — Chris Hartman, Carlos Nieto and Shawn Tabeling — sent an email blitz last week to gauge interest from prospective tenants.

“We haven’t done much marketing, but we’re pretty happy with (feedback),” Guth said. “People are pleasantly surprised at our pricing..”

The owners have established a three-phase plan for development.

The initial phase includes the eight first-floor classrooms on the north side — which are available individually — as well as the former library, gymnasium and the principal’s suite.

The classrooms — which are approximately 720 square feet each — are available for $600 a month. That figure will include all utilities as well as wifi.

“It’s one price, unless they need hard-wire,” Guth said.

The rooms are available as is, meaning fixups and renovations will be the responsibility of the new tenants.

Boston said he plans to have the carpet removed from the library — his new office — and will have the concrete floor stained. He plans to get rid of the drop ceiling as well.

Before anyone takes possession of their units, Sangamon on Main owners will address several issues.

“We’ll carpet the hallways, so it looks less institutional. We’ll paint the (hallway) walls, and the bathrooms will be remodeled,” Guth said.

A security system will be put in service.

Fairlawn Real Estate will serve as the construction managers.

The window air-conditioner units in what were the classrooms will remain, and will be replaced as needed.

Only the library space and the principal’s suite have central air conditioning.

One item on the to-do list, which Guth said “we’ll tackle in the winter or next spring,” is how to cool the hallways, which have no air-conditioning.

Tenants will have access to a common break room — formerly the teachers’ lounge — where Guth said they can, “mingle with other professionals,” and share a common kitchen area.

Outside of the building, on the north side, plans will be out in place for “landscaping work that will increase visibility.” Guth said.

The school district will remove and relocate one tree from the property, but was granted permission to wait until fall when the chances for survival will be better.

Another phase of the development project is the oldest section of the school— built in 1951 — which is on the east side of the building.

“We do not want to split it up,” Guth said. “We are private marketing it as one (unit).”

There are eight classrooms on that side, as well as kitchen space, an indoor play area or cafeteria area, plus access to the outdoor playground.

That area could be appealing to daycare providers.

Boston has served as an unofficial spokesman for the classrooms on the lower level of the north side.

“I’m trying to get small businesses to go down and look,” Boston said. “It’s a step up from home-based businesses.”

He doesn’t have a preference on whom he would like to see join him in the former school building.

“I’d love to see the space filled by whatever Mahomet needs right now,” Boston said.

Guth envisions a scenario where two groups with small businesses, possibly home-based,  share one unit, splitting the costs and lowering their overhead.

Guth emphasized that there’s not a particular target audience.

“It doesn’t have to be office (space). It can be retail,” she said. “If someone has an idea, come to us and we will find a way to make it work.

“We can knock out a wall and make two classrooms into one, or provide (exterior) access to the courtyard.”

Once the building is operational, Guth said it will be open from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays and “after that, it will be fob-based,” entry.

With the possible exception of the gymnasium — which could also have its own entrance — Guth doesn’t anticipate signage attached to the building.

“Then it loses its significance,” she said.

A monument-type sign will be erected near where the current Sangamon School sign is located and will list any businesses that are inside. Additionally, near the northeast corner of the property will be a pylon-type sign with names of about a half-dozen tenants.

“We hope to see this place with a mix of businesses to create co-working space,” Guth said.

The owners are treading in uncharted territory.

“We’ve seen vacant schools converted into condos, but we haven’t seen examples of people creating an environment like this,” Guth said. “There’s very little to draw from.”

No definite plans have been made for the second-floor classrooms on the building’s north side, but Guth did not rule out the possibility that it could become living quarters.

Several decisions have not yet been finalized and may be put off temporarily. The school district left behind all of the individual hall lockers as well as some assorted tables and chairs.

They will likely be stored in units that won’t be immediately leased, with the hopes that some of the items may be needed in the future.

“If not, we’ll make a donation,” Guth said.

She is optimistic that the venture will be a success, but added, “What’s the worst thing? It doesn’t work and we go a different direction.”

The group’s bid to buy the property was accepted in November, 2017. About nine months later, the closing is scheduled and a new beginning is ready to be launched.

“We’re raring to go,” Guth said. “We’ll just go down the path and see where it leads us.”

Anyone interested in more information about Sangamon On Main can reach Guth at jill.guth@outlook.com.

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