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Former middle school could be new home for local business

A former Muncie middle school that has been sitting empty since June could soon have new life as the home for a local business. There had been talk of turning the building into a new jail for the county but that had never been officially proposed.

Wilson Middle School was the newest building in the Muncie Community School System but the end of the last academic year marked its end as well.

It may be vacant but the 219,000 square foot building is still costing taxpayers – about $50,000 each month in utilities, insurance and custodial costs. Then there was the low appraisal.

“$700,000 was the appraisal for that and I think it’s horrible to be quite honest with you,” Muncie Community Schools’ Superintendent Tim Heller said. “But school buildings seem only to be of value to school people because I guess companies have to renovate too much. Or there’s too much space.”

There had been talk of reopening Wilson as an elementary school but that meant remodeling costs. The distance from town was also a factor to consider, Heller said.

But Monday the Muncie Redevelopment Commission signed off on transferring the school to the city which in turn will sell it. Tuesday night the Muncie Community School board then voted to transfer the building to the city who will in turn sell the property for around $2 Million to be given back to the school district.

“There’s no money in this to be made by the city of Muncie or the Muncie Redevelopment Commission,” Muncie Mayor Dennis Tyler said. “Whatever money we can raise through this process will go to Muncie Community Schools for them to help with their budget.”

It’s a move that means Storer Elementary School – which was slated to close at the end of the school year – will remain open – for now.

“We were pretty far along with closing the building. I did meet with faculty and talk with them about closing and then I went back and talked with them about we were going to delay.” Heller said. “I have a grandson who goes there so I felt that too. When he found out he had a couple sleepless nights. It’s not fun to go through that but we are responsible for the fiscal management of this district and we’re probably going to have to close some more schools later on.”

Many believe ASONS – which announced last week it’s expanding its headquarters in Muncie and adding 316 jobs in the next 10 years – will buy the property. The idea – turn the south side entrance to Muncie into a gateway to the community.

“Entrances are key part of first appearance or first perception,” Tyler said. “INDOT said they’d work with us on a different number of ideas.”

ASONS had no comment on the speculated move at this time.

As for a proposal earlier this year by a County Commissioner to turn the school into a jail, Tyler said he never would have let that happen as long as he was mayor.

“Oh no, absolutely not. I just think that sends the wrong message – that we’re closing schools and we’re opening jails,” Tyler said. “I didn’t want Muncie to be known as the next Philadelphia where they’re closing schools to build prisons, build jails.”

Tyler said the entire process is expected to take about three to four months.

The school system still owns about 12 acres of the property but plans to sit on it for now.