CSD may lease out UL campus

School district doesn’t have an immediate need for 58-acre property; school board mulls short-term leasing options

With the $11.5 million purchase of the former Underwriters Laboratories (UL) campus in Camas, the Camas School District could find itself diving into uncharted territory and taking on a new role: that of a short-term landlord.

“This is a new arena for us,” Camas School District Superintendent Jeff Snell said Monday, during the Camas School Board’s regular meeting, of the potential to lease-out the UL property. “We haven’t done this before.”

Camas School District leaders have been mulling over several possibilities for the new campus since agreeing to purchase the 58-acre property and 115,000-square-foot building from UL in late June.

Snell said in June that purchasing the property and building was “a once in a lifetime opportunity” for the growing school district.

“It’s pretty rare to get a property of that size,” Snell told school board members in June.

The former UL site is located adjacent to the district’s Skyridge Middle School, at 2600 N.W. Lake Road, in Camas.

District leaders intend to use the building to accommodate student population growth in Camas, but won’t have a pressing need for the space right away. On Monday, school board members discussed the possibility of leasing the UL building until the district decides how to utilize the space.

Snell said the district would likely want to enter into short-term, not long-term, leases.

“Do we want to enter into a 30-year lease with this property? Probably not based on our (recent) discussions,” Snell said Monday.

He asked the school board members to think about how they would approach short-term leases at the UL campus. Would they require tenants to pay for utilities and maintenance costs? Would they want to partner with tenants that could link into educational programs — perhaps offering internships to Camas students? Would they try to partner with tenants that could enhance the greater Camas community?

The school district’s leaders will need to figure out “how to navigate some of these things,” Snell said Monday.

Jasen McEathron, the district’s director of business services, compared the school district’s opportunity for leasing property to the Port of Camas-Washougal’s leasing capabilities.

“(The Port is) in the business of leasing out spaces. We’re not,” McEathron said. “Whereas the Port may take a risk on a start-up company, we probably would not.”

Board President Doug Quinn said he thought the district should require possible tenants to maintain the spaces in keeping with the building and property’s current level of maintenance.

“It’s very well maintained,” Quinn said of the UL campus. “It’s almost student-ready.”

Board member Tracey Malone added that, unless a tenant directly aligned with the school district’s education mission, she would be nervous about leasing the property for more than three years at a time.

Snell added that, since the school district was not in the business of making money through leasing out properties, the district would need to set possible lease rates in accordance with market rates.

“We’re not trying to make money on this,” Snell said. “We want to be really thoughtful and transparent about our needs for (the UL campus) and show people how they could partner with us if they wanted to.”

UL, an Illinois-based company with labs and offices worldwide, moved to the Camas location in 1994. In September 2018, the company announced it was moving to another location in east Vancouver and would sell the Camas property in the first quarter of 2019.

The UL purchase was not the first time the Camas School District has taken advantage of a technology-related business moving out of Camas. In 2016, the district purchased the former Sharp Laboratories of America building and surrounding property for $12.5 million.

That property, which came with a 55,000-square-foot building and 30 acres of land, is now home to Odyssey Middle School and Discovery High School.

The district is funding the UL purchase with dedicated impact fees designated to help accommodate student population growth in the school district, as well as state forest dollars.

On Monday, the School Board unanimously approved issuing a $5.27 million, non-voted limited general obligation (LGO) bond to help finance the UL acquisition.

The district’s underwriter sent the terms of the LGO bond to 52 lenders nationwide and JP Morgan Chase came back with the best offer — a 1.99 percent interest rate over a 10-year term, with the option of paying the loan off after June 1, 2022.