Camas School District to buy former UL campus

The $11.5 million purchase will give district 57 acres, a 115,000-square-foot building near Skyridge Middle

The former Camas home of Underwriters Laboratories — a consumer electronics testing and certification company now known as UL — will soon be a part of the Camas School District.

The Camas School Board unanimously approved the $11.5 million purchase of the 57.6-acre property and 115,000-square-foot building at a Monday night board meeting.

Camas School District Superintendent Jeff Snell called the purchase “a once in a lifetime opportunity” and said that, although the district currently does not have need for a property or building of that size, he believes the community will be happy to have the property, which sits adjacent to the district’s Skyridge Middle School, at 2600 N.W. Lake Road.

“It’s pretty rare to get a property of that size,” Snell told board members Monday, adding the school district could even choose even place another comprehensive high school “if that’s what the community needed” at the former UL site.

Board member Erika Cox, who made the motion to approve the property acquisition, said she looked at the purchase as “an opportunity for growth and imagination.”

As the Board had just been discussing a looming budget deficit for the 2019-20 school year, Snell explained that the money for the property would not come out of the general fund, which is the fund affected by the deficit, but rather from dedicated impact fees that are designated to help with growth in the school district, as well as state forest dollars that have been going toward the district’s debt service.

Jasen McEathron, the district’s director of business services, explained Monday during a discussion about the looming deficit that the district’s funds for certain needs — including transportation costs, building construction and associated student body expenses — are separate from the general fund and cannot be used to help supplement the general fund’s deficit.

McEathron said school district staff had done due diligence on the UL property and believed the $11.5 million was a fair price for the land and building.

McEathron also said the property would serve the district well as Camas grew in that area, saying: “There is virtually no other piece of property out there that is flat like (the UL site).”

Future building bonds could also help pay down the district’s loan on the property, Snell said.

“I think the community will be excited,” Snell said, “when they look back 20, 30 years, that we could make that acquisition.”

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.

Marc Mouser, the engineering manager at the Camas UL office, told the Post-Record last year that the move would help save money.

“We have more space and facilities than what we need,” Mouser said. “We will consolidate to a smaller, more efficient space.”

This isn’t 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 the district’s projects-based learning Odyssey Middle School and Discovery High School.

This story was updated to reflect that UL is headquartered in Illinois.