Aberdeen finally inks deal to acquire old school property from Harford County

The building will likely be sold to a developer for apartments

Following several months of discussion and still without a clear plan of exactly what comes next, the Aberdeen City Council has agreed to take ownership of the former high school building on Route 40 at Franklin Street in the city's downtown.

The council voted unanimously Monday night to authorize Mayor Patrick McGrady to sign the deed with Harford County government transferring ownership of the two-acre property and vacant building to the city. He signed it following the meeting.

The next step, McGrady said, will be to subdivide the property, so that the building is on a parcel by itself and the remainder of the property's north side can be incorporated into adjoining Festival Park.

Once that is accomplished, the city will move to "quickly" sell the property to a developer, McGrady said prior to the council meeting, while conceding "quickly" may be a relative term.

"We have had interest from private developers to use the building for market rate apartments," he said, reiterating previous statements that the building would not be sold for any form of rent subsidized living units.

"The problem with the tax credits used in subsidized units is they typically run 30 years, and the market can change in that time, but you are stuck with that use for the building," explained McGrady, whose family company owns and manages rental housing in the city.

He added he is optimistic the plan to sell the building will bear fruit.

Constructed in 1908 as a secondary school, and expanded to accommodate elementary students in 1924, the building's use as a school ended in the 1950s when the high school campus moved to Paradise Road with the construction of what would be three buildings erected on that site.

The Route 40 building was then used for various community services under county government ownership from the mid-1970s until 2014, when a plumbing malfunction resulted in the tenants, which included activities of the Health Department, being moved to other locations. The building sat vacant until the current county administration moved to dispose of the property last year, but first offering it to the city.

Though the cost to the city was $1, as authorized last year by the Harford County Council and county Board of Estimates, there was some initial reluctance on the part of the city officials to rush into the deal, which the county had wanted completed by the end of 2016.

During a city staff retreat in November, there was considerable debate among council members and the staff about whether the city should take the property and, if so, what could be done with it given the condition of the building.

Demolition, though an option, would have run close to $1 million, repairing it for some public use was also deemed an unacceptable financial commitment for the city.

The alternative of not taking the property, however, would have led to the county selling it to the highest bidder, giving the city only minimal control over its future use, a prospect city officials also found unacceptable because the property lies in the heart of the city's downtown transit-oriented development district. As a result, council members told McGrady to move ahead with acquiring it.

The deal still took several more months to complete, as the city sent its inspection team through the building and the state had to sign off on the transfer because of the property's one-time use as a public school site.

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