The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

September 19, 2013

Belle Mina property draws $600K offer

Athens businessman plans to open daycare in former school

By Kim West

— Athens businessman J. Bradley Horner has made a $600,000 offer for the former Mooresville-Belle Mina Elementary School property owned by Limestone County Schools.

During Tuesday’s Board of Education work session, Horner proposed to buy the nearly 7-acre property at 5711 Mooresville Road through a five-year lease agreement, with a 12-month delay on the first set of payments.

“I’m asking for a 12-month delay on the first set of payments because of the amount of investments (for structural improvements),” Horner said.

Project details

Board member Earl Glaze asked whether Horner hired a structural engineer or architect, and Horner said an architect and building inspector have reviewed the property. He said he plans to build a pitched roof for $125,000, with the exterior requiring “re-skinning” and the interior needing intensive repairs.

“There is the possibility of an insulation factor that may or not be present. I don’t know if it’s in the old roof system because it’s old wafer feel on those flat roofs,” Horner said. “Our steel and concrete walls and roof systems would be built with I-joists to provide 130 mile per hour wind protection.

“The state inspector is concerned about the sprinkler system, and I’m totally aware of the price for that (from FirePro).”

Horner said he intends to renovate the defunct school building and gymnasium into a full-time daycare called Asher Academy.

“The purpose of the building would be a daycare Monday through Friday, and we would allow the community to lease it on weekend for reunions and other events,” Horner said.

Business plan

Board member Anthony Hilliard asked whether Horner, who does not have prior experience owning a daycare, had researched the business plan for his proposal.

“It would take 60 students to break even, and pay for the staff and energy consumption,” Horner said. “The building can handle up to 300 so we would be running at about 20 percent capacity at that point. Once we get above 60, we’ll be running at a good profit.”

When asked by Superintendent Dr. Tom Sisk if the property could become a Huntsville-annexed portion of Limestone County, Horner said a loophole exists to prevent annexation since the site is not completely surrounded by annexed land.

“The property is not in the city limits of Huntsville because it’s still owned by Limestone County Schools,” Horner said. “It’s only (annexed) on three sides — the south, east and north sides — but the farmland on the west is not.”

Horner said he has assembled a group of investors willing to take on the risk of converting the school, which closed in 1991 due to declining enrollment, into a profitable business. He said if the project failed, the school system would not be responsible for any costs associated with redevelopment.

“I have private investors willing to invest in the long-term goal with all private monies because they can see the profitability,” Horner said. “The purchase would be as-is. It would go from being a liability to an asset, and turn an eyesore into an opportunity.”

Horner said pending board approval, it could take “6 to 8 weeks to get the project going,” with four months for the roof upgrade, four months for interior work and a month to market the new business. He said he anticipated finishing the daycare by August 2014.

Property value

The property’s real estate agent, Wade Boggs of Butler Realty, said on Wednesday the 6.9-acre site is listed at $659,000 and has been the market for more than two years. The board unanimously approved selling the former school in 2007.

“The property has not had a recent appraisal, and the most recent one was done in November 2007 that appraised it at $627,000,” Boggs said. “We’ve probably had 10 people take a serious look at it in the past two years.”

The board agreed to consider approving Horner’s offer at its next meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 1, at the Clinton Street courthouse annex.