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Feb. 5 auction of old school headquarters in Bel Air generates curiosity

Harford County plans to sell the old school headquarters building in Bel Air at a public auction scheduled on the Gordon Street property at noon on Feb. 5.
Harford County plans to sell the old school headquarters building in Bel Air at a public auction scheduled on the Gordon Street property at noon on Feb. 5. (Aegis photo by Allan Vought, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Bel Air town officials say they hope the upcoming public auction of the former school headquarters building property on Gordon Street will finally settle the vacant building's fate.

They aren't, however, necessarily holding their collective breaths that will happen.

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"There's been a lot of uncertainty," Mayor Robert Reier noted during a town commissioners work session Tuesday.

The auction of the two-story brick building, parts of which dates to the late 19th century, and its one-acre lot will be held at the site at 45 E. Gordon St. on Thursday, Feb. 5, beginning at noon. The building will be open two hours prior to the sale.

O'Neill Enterprises is conducting the auction and has a 25-page catalog available through its website at http://oneillenterprises.com/45.e.gordan.street.auction.feb5.2015.

The property is owned by Harford County and its sale won't happen without a few strings attached.

For starters, there's a starting bid of $100,000 and any sale is subject to approval by the Harford County Board of Estimates.

More problematic, the buyer will be required to renovate/rehab the building, originally known as the Bel Air Academy and the town's first high school, in accordance with a resolution passed last year by the Harford County Council that declared the property surplus and authorized the auction.

According to the resolution, the county executive is authorized to convey the property "with a deed restriction that the building on the premises, known as the 'Bel Air Academy,' may not be demolished unless so ordered by a regulatory authority for public safety reasons..."

Having to keep the building is a potential deal breaker, according to several local real estate developers who have looked at the structure and say the cost of rehabbing it wouldn't justify the return on such an investment.

The property itself is well located and considered large by Bel Air standards, however, and that still could make it attractive, despite the no demolition requirement. It has commercial zoning and is in a transitional area between Main Street and the more residential east side of town. It's also adjacent to Bel Air Elementary School.

An appraisal of the property performed for the county in October 2013 by Page Appraisal Company of Bel Air put its value at $620,000, county government spokesperson Cindy Mumby said. The property's property tax assessment is $857,000, according to state tax records.

Bel Air Planning Director Kevin Small said he received inquiries from two people about possibly turning the building into office space.

The Historical Society of Harford County, the property's immediate neighbor to the west, is watching developments with the property, according to several directors of the organization. Society Executive Director Maryanna Skowronski said one prominent local businessman, whom she declined to name, expressed some interest to her about possibly bidding.

Reier said he doesn't want to see a situation where somebody buys the property for a minimal price and lets it sit, leaving residents to look at the boarded up building "for another 10 years."

"We just want there to be some movement one way or the other," he said.

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If not, Reier added, his preferred solution would be for the county "to turn it over to the elementary school and tear down the building for use as athletic fields."

This story is corrected from an earlier version to reflect that the starting bid on the property is $100,000, not a minimum bid.

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