CENTERVILLE — If all goes to plan, a building that for more than eight decades housed an elementary school will become affordable housing.

The Centerville Community School District Board of Education on Monday approved the sale of the former Central Ward Elementary School building on Drake Avenue to a limited liability company connected to Lee Container.

The company, named Hawknut Properties LLC, is purchasing the former school for $225,000. The manager of the company is Robert Varnedoe, who is also the chief executive officer of Lee Container, a company with a factory in the town of Centerville.

The deal still must make it through closing.

In a letter to the school board, Varnedoe stated they hope transitioning the building into affordable housing will help increase the available labor market in Centerville.

This isn't the first time Lee Container has purchased a former school with a vision to address a community challenge. In 2017, an affiliated company purchased the former Garfield Elementary School with an intent to turn it into a daycare. With the help of Curious Kids, the company accomplished that effort and the daycare opened soon after.

Central Ward Elementary School closed after the 2019-20 school year, with students shifting to a renovated Lakeview Elementary School. The move was part of a years-long consolidation project designed to give the district fewer buildings to maintain.

Garfield Elementary School was also closed as a result of that plan. Lincoln Elementary School was transitioned into a pre-kindergarten center.

The current Central Ward Elementary School was built in the mid-1930s, replacing a school of the same name at the time. There was an addition completed in 1998.

Before approving the sale, the board held a public hearing and heard no comments about the sale.

There were three other bids submitted to buy the building, with the Lee Container by far the highest bidder. Two of the other bids also intended to transition the building into apartments, while the third was intending to use it as commercial space for their business.

The district had requested bids be submitted on the building, with bidders submitting a summary of their intentions should they be approved to buy the building.

Board member Kris Shondel was absent from the meeting.

In other action:

— The board welcomed new members following the November election and said goodbye to board members Marty Braster and Bob Thomas. New members to the board included Sarah Lind and Tim Burger. Michael Thomas was re-elected. Lind was not present, Burger and Michael Thomas took the oaths of office.

Kevin Wiskus was named board president, replacing Braster, who did not seek re-election this year. Mike Moore was named board vice president.

— Seven staff members took advantage of the district's early retirement offer, and the board approved all seven. The early retirees are Tina Bauman, Kym Caylor, Denise Howe, Tim Kaster, Peggy Kauzlarich, Rhonda Raskie and Kayleen Durley. An early retirement incentive of $50,000 was approved in September for this year's retirees.

— Superintendent Tom Rubel discussed the new Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules regarding COVID-19 vaccine and testing requirements. He reported the district will be subject to those, as they have more than 100 employees. Given court battles, though, Rubel said the district is currently in a holding pattern in terms of implementation.

Rubel said he doesn't currently know how many of the district's employees have or have not received the COVID vaccine.

"What I'm saying to the school system, what I'm saying to the board, what I'm saying to the community is that we're in a holding pattern as to what we need to do," Rubel said.

Kyle Ocker is the editor of the Ottumwa Courier and the Oskaloosa Herald. He can be reached at kocker@ottumwacourier.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kyle_Ocker.

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Kyle Ocker is a Centerville native and award-winning multimedia journalist. Kyle is currently the president of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and vice president of the Iowa Print Sports Writers Association.

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